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#1
Old 11-20-2011, 12:39 PM
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How did the term "Fortnight" come into being?

I know that today some people are paid every two weeks, but fortnight is a very old English word.

What would happen every two weeks (fourteen nights to be exact) in "long ago" England that made the coining of such a word useful?
#2
Old 11-20-2011, 12:53 PM
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Quoth the OED
Quote:
Etymology: Contracted form of Old English féowertýne niht fourteen nights. Compare sennight n.For the ancient Germanic method of reckoning by nights see Tacitus Germaniaxi.... (Show Less)
1.
Thesaurus »
a. A period of fourteen nights; two weeks.a1000 Laws of Ina §55 Oþ ðæt feowertyne niht ofer Eastron.
#3
Old 11-20-2011, 01:21 PM
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Originally Posted by samclem View Post
Quoth the OED
Yes, but what USE is it?

"I'll see you in a fortnight". "I've been dating her for a fortnight." "We've been working on this roof for a fortnight". ETC.

How often does one use the concept of 14 days? What happens the next day when it becomes 15 days?

"I'll see you next week." I've been dating her for a month." We've been working on this roof for a year." These periods of time seem to be far more useful because you can "add" to them. Two weeks, three weeks; 5 months, 6 months; 8 years, 10 years, etc.

I don't think anyone says, "I'll see you in a couple of fortnights".
#4
Old 11-20-2011, 01:26 PM
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I guess the first issue might be why 'nights' and not 'days'. To wit:
Quote:
preserving the ancient Germanic custom of reckoning by night
#5
Old 11-20-2011, 01:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangosteen View Post

I don't think anyone says, "I'll see you in a couple of fortnights".
No, I don't think anyone ever says that. Personally I only really ever use it for holidays, as in "I've got a fortnight off in June".
#6
Old 11-20-2011, 01:28 PM
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A fortnight is a half moon, i.e. the time it takes to go from full to half and half to new. That would be an important marker. Etymonline.com seems to make a reference to this under harvest:
Quote:
The borrowing of autumn and the use of fall in a seasonal sense gradually focused the meaning of harvest to "the time of gathering crops" (mid-13c.), then to the action itself and the product of the action (after c.1300). Figurative use by 1530s. Harvest home (1590s) is the occasion of bringing home the last of the harvest; harvest moon (1706) is that which is full within a fortnight of the autumnal equinox.
There are many worse explanations on the Net. Sam, don't go here unless you have a need to slam your head into a wall.
#7
Old 11-20-2011, 01:32 PM
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A period of fourteen nights: equivalent to French "une quinzaine" (de jours).

May be the English consider nights more important than days.
#8
Old 11-20-2011, 01:38 PM
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For comparison puposes, the French refer to a two week period as “fifteen days” (J’y suis allée il y a quinze jours – I went there two weeks ago). Even more disturbing, they refer to a one week period as “eight days” (Je te vois en huit jours – I’ll see you in a week).
#9
Old 11-20-2011, 01:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
Sam, don't go here unless you have a need to slam your head into a wall.
Ye Gods.
#10
Old 11-20-2011, 01:58 PM
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I sometimes use "sen-night" for a week.
#11
Old 11-20-2011, 02:03 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
There are many worse explanations on the Net. Sam, don't go here unless you have a need to slam your head into a wall.
Excellent cite for the origin of "fortnight". I shall start spreading that around.
#12
Old 11-20-2011, 02:12 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mornac View Post
For comparison puposes, the French refer to a two week period as “fifteen days” (J’y suis allée il y a quinze jours – I went there two weeks ago). Even more disturbing, they refer to a one week period as “eight days” (Je te vois en huit jours – I’ll see you in a week).
But only because conventionally they count today as part of the period. Like in music, a first interval is two notes with the same pitch, and a second is a one note and the next note up, &c.
#13
Old 11-20-2011, 02:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
There are many worse explanations on the Net. Sam, don't go url="http://backroadstouring.co.uk/phraseorigins.php"]here[/url] unless you have a need to slam your head into a wall.
Has to be the worst etymology source on the web. I can't find a single explanation that's correct.
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#14
Old 11-20-2011, 02:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangosteen View Post
Yes, but what USE is it?
An event that happens every other week can be described as occurring fortnightly. Other dialects might describe this as happening on alternate weeks, but I find that ambiguous due to overlap with 'alternative'

It's a reasonably useful word despite not being common in all English dialects. I hear it used quite frequently here in the UK.
#15
Old 11-20-2011, 03:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangetout View Post
An event that happens every other week can be described as occurring fortnightly. Other dialects might describe this as happening on alternate weeks, but I find that ambiguous due to overlap with 'alternative'

It's a reasonably useful word despite not being common in all English dialects. I hear it used quite frequently here in the UK.
I'm not here to criticize British English; I'm only curious as to when and why the term is used. If fortnight can used to describe "half a month", then I can begin to see how it might prove to be useful. Or if it is mostly used with "about" or "almost", I get it. However, if its meaning is strictly 14 days (like a week is strictly 7 days), then I fail to see how it could be commonly used.
#16
Old 11-20-2011, 04:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangosteen View Post
However, if its meaning is strictly 14 days (like a week is strictly 7 days), then I fail to see how it could be commonly used.
But it is. "A fortnights holiday". Government benefits are paid fortnightly. It's just a word, it gets used when it's appropriate to do so. I don't see why this is a problem for you.
#17
Old 11-20-2011, 04:16 PM
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If it were commonly used, you'd probably see how it could be commonly used.

For an example, we use liquid measures of cups, pints, quarts, and also gallons. Do we really need all of those? Yet they're all common. Compare week to cup, fortnight to pint, and month to quart. If "pint" weren't common, your post could be asking the same question about that word. But it is common, so it seems normal to you (I assume).
#18
Old 11-20-2011, 04:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangosteen View Post
Yes, but what USE is it?
As I noted in this post in a previous thread, many activities occur on a fortnightly basis, and the word fortnight is in constant use here. I actually used it about ten minutes ago, explaining a staff member's absence this morning..."she has a fortnight's leave".
#19
Old 11-20-2011, 05:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangosteen View Post
...
How often does one use the concept of 14 days? What happens the next day when it becomes 15 days?
...
You can get a fortnightly paycheck (i.e. you get paid every two weeks).

An event can happen every two weeks. E.g. a church that practices Communion every other Sunday service could be said to have Communion every fortnight.
#20
Old 11-20-2011, 05:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangosteen View Post
I'm not here to criticize British English; I'm only curious as to when and why the term is used. If fortnight can used to describe "half a month", then I can begin to see how it might prove to be useful. Or if it is mostly used with "about" or "almost", I get it. However, if its meaning is strictly 14 days (like a week is strictly 7 days), then I fail to see how it could be commonly used.
Like most other expressions of duration, it is sometimes used less precisely than others, but usually, a fortnight refers to two whole weeks. In my experience, it gets used to describe half a month approximately as often as a month gets approximated as four weeks.

I'm not going to go out of my way to try to defend the usage of this word - it is what it is, except that I already gave an example of how it is commonly used (that you apparently fail to see). Events that happen every other week are fortnightly.

I don't really get the 'what if it's 15 days?' thing. What happens to an hour if it's 70 minutes, or a day if it's 32 hours? Beyond a certain tolerance, none of these terms are useful.

Last edited by Mangetout; 11-20-2011 at 05:52 PM.
#21
Old 11-20-2011, 05:54 PM
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If you'd care to observe it in the wild - here are some examples:

http://bbc.co.uk/search/news/?q=fortnight
#22
Old 11-20-2011, 07:29 PM
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Another way to put the question is why we in America have so little use for the term. As we've seen from the thread, the British, the French and the Australians -- among many others, I'm sure -- find it useful to have a ready term for half a month's worth of time. Why don't we?
#23
Old 11-20-2011, 08:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gymnopithys View Post
A period of fourteen nights: equivalent to French "une quinzaine" (de jours).{snip}
Quote:
Originally Posted by robert_columbia View Post
You can get a fortnightly paycheck (i.e. you get paid every two weeks).{snip}
FWIW, cognate to "quinzaine" is the Spanish "quincena":
In Guatemala, Mexico and Panama, ["quincena"] is used to refer to the paying of half of the monthly salary received by a worker...
It should be noted that is is called "quincena" even when this payment isn't made strictly every 15 days...

Excerpted from: http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quincena, (translated by me).
#24
Old 11-20-2011, 08:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangosteen View Post
However, if its meaning is strictly 14 days (like a week is strictly 7 days), then I fail to see how it could be commonly used.
It's interesting that you can see a use for a word that means exactly 7 days, but not one that means exactly 14.
#25
Old 11-20-2011, 08:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sal Ammoniac View Post
Another way to put the question is why we in America have so little use for the term. As we've seen from the thread, the British, the French and the Australians -- among many others, I'm sure -- find it useful to have a ready term for half a month's worth of time. Why don't we?
Especially since, as I understand it (and as noted by others in the thread), a lot of US workers are paid fortnightly.
#26
Old 11-20-2011, 09:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tengu View Post
It's interesting that you can see a use for a word that means exactly 7 days, but not one that means exactly 14.


....really not that odd. There are seven days and then a reset.
#27
Old 11-20-2011, 09:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Push You Down View Post
....really not that odd. There are seven days and then a reset.
Hmm. Payday. 14 days elapse. Payday. 14 days elapse..etc

It just seems odd that someone would live in a society where some things happen every 14 days and find it surprising that there exists a word for "14 days", and ask why such a word is useful.
#28
Old 11-20-2011, 10:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cunctator View Post
As I noted in this post in a previous thread, many activities occur on a fortnightly basis, and the word fortnight is in constant use here. I actually used it about ten minutes ago, explaining a staff member's absence this morning..."she has a fortnight's leave".
What he said.

I get paid fortnightly. So I do my grocery shopping fortnightly. I run a roleplaying game once a fortnight on the Friday. The game is this Friday, so the next session after that will be in a fortnight's time. I also play in another game once a fortnight on the Saturday. The last session of that was the Saturday just gone, so the next one is a fortnight from Saturday. When the game finished and everyone was leaving we said "See you in a fortnight"

Because I get paid fortnightly I also buy my bus tickets on a fortnightly basis. I put money towards my mortgage once a fortnight. I see my family on average about once a fortnight. My mum's got a fortnight's leave over Christmas but between public holidays, mandatory shutdown and weekends, she only needs to take two days actual paid leave.

It was mentioned in another thread, possibly the pay one, about frequent confusion between Americans about what someone means when they talk about something happening "Bi-weekly" - is it two times a week or once every two weeks? Well, fortnight removes that ambiguity.
#29
Old 11-20-2011, 10:28 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sal Ammoniac View Post
Another way to put the question is why we in America have so little use for the term. As we've seen from the thread, the British, the French and the Australians -- among many others, I'm sure -- find it useful to have a ready term for half a month's worth of time. Why don't we?
We do. Both "biweekly" and "bimonthly" are used to refer to something that happens every two weeks/twice a month, like how often I get paid or how often we have staff meetings at my job. "Fortnightly" has an advantage over these in that it's more precise; "biweekly" can also be used to mean "twice a week" and "bimonthly" to mean "every two months".
#30
Old 11-20-2011, 10:41 PM
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"Bi-weekly" is one of those words you use at your own peril. Ask a hundred people what it means, and half will say twice a week, and the other half twice a month.
#31
Old 11-20-2011, 10:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by leahcim View Post
But only because conventionally they count today as part of the period. Like in music, a first interval is two notes with the same pitch, and a second is a one note and the next note up, &c.
--Why thank you leahcim. I've asked at least a dozen French about that over the years and all I ever got for a response was one of those quizical "you anglophones always ask the stupidest questions" looks that they're so good at when they could have just as easily given me the reasonable explanation that you just have. (I take it your not French then?)
#32
Old 11-20-2011, 11:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Sierra Indigo View Post
What he said.

I get paid fortnightly. So I do my grocery shopping fortnightly. I run a roleplaying game once a fortnight on the Friday. The game is this Friday, so the next session after that will be in a fortnight's time. I also play in another game once a fortnight on the Saturday. The last session of that was the Saturday just gone, so the next one is a fortnight from Saturday. When the game finished and everyone was leaving we said "See you in a fortnight"

Because I get paid fortnightly I also buy my bus tickets on a fortnightly basis. I put money towards my mortgage once a fortnight. I see my family on average about once a fortnight. My mum's got a fortnight's leave over Christmas but between public holidays, mandatory shutdown and weekends, she only needs to take two days actual paid leave.

It was mentioned in another thread, possibly the pay one, about frequent confusion between Americans about what someone means when they talk about something happening "Bi-weekly" - is it two times a week or once every two weeks? Well, fortnight removes that ambiguity.
Why don't you play every week?
#33
Old 11-20-2011, 11:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sal Ammoniac View Post
"Bi-weekly" is one of those words you use at your own peril. Ask a hundred people what it means, and half will say twice a week, and the other half twice a month.
Agree. Ditto bi-monthly. Drives me crazy. As close to a useless noun as possible, where you have to ask ("inflammable" is often cited as a bipolar word, but that doesn't come up so often).
#34
Old 11-20-2011, 11:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Mangosteen View Post
Why don't you play every week?
... Because we don't. The schedule works out best for the players involved to play fortnightly. There are different players involved, so the weeks involved are different.
#35
Old 11-21-2011, 12:16 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangosteen View Post
Why don't you play every week?
So Sierra Indigo's group should play every week because you don't like the fact that they play fortnightly? Edit: And the reason you don't like the fact that they play fortnightly is that you don't like the word "fortnight"?

Last edited by PaulParkhead; 11-21-2011 at 12:21 AM.
#36
Old 11-21-2011, 12:27 AM
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To clarify:

There are five people involved with each game, but the layout is different.

The game I run is fortnightly on Friday evenings. I am the GM. Brad, Luke, Kayleigh and Alex are the players.

The other game, run on alternate weeks is on Saturday afternoons. Brad is the GM. Luke, Stewart, John and I are the players.

Although there are three core players involved, there are four players who only play one of the two games that are running. Two of those players are only available on Friday evenings, so that's when my game runs. The other two players are only available between lunchtime and about 6pm, and because I work full time the only days that I'm available in those hours are Weekends, so the other game runs on the Saturday. Because there are two different games and two different groups, running both games weekly would eat up between 10-12 hours of weekend time between Friday night and Saturday afternoon. So in the interest of not overloading anyone and burning players or GMs out, we play each game once a fortnight on alternating weeks.
#37
Old 11-21-2011, 01:50 AM
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I think part of the thing the OP is getting at, as someone else said, was the use of fortnight to mean more than one.

You can say we get paid every two weeks or every three weeks, or we go on holiday every month or every two months.

But you (usually) don't hear we get paid, every two fornights. You'd say, once a month. You'd not say, we get paid every half fornight. You'd say once a week.

And so on
#38
Old 11-21-2011, 02:08 AM
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Good point. And yes - fortnight is seldom used as a unit.
ETA: I have seem it used that way, for example, if a holiday camp is organising a series of two- week events, they might describe them as fortnights, and you might book to attend fortnight 3.

Last edited by Mangetout; 11-21-2011 at 02:10 AM.
#39
Old 11-21-2011, 03:15 AM
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I get paid fortnightly, that is every two weeks or 26 times a year. If I got paid bi-monthly, I'd get paid twice a month or 24 times a year. You gonna cover the missing pay? Well are ya, punk?

I used to pay an account monthly, but the gradually shifting pay-in date vs pay-out date meant I had to change payments to an alternate fortnightly date.

My bank even had an on-line option for that because it does make an appreciable difference for regular payments.


eta: That second glass of wine may have been a mistake.

Last edited by maggenpye; 11-21-2011 at 03:19 AM.
#40
Old 11-21-2011, 12:15 PM
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Sennight was once a common alternative for week. OED has cites up to the late 19th century.
#41
Old 11-21-2011, 03:23 PM
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I have no major problem with the use of fortnight, but I have a real hard time trying to figure a legitimate reason to weigh things in stones.
#42
Old 11-22-2011, 08:53 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sal Ammoniac View Post
Another way to put the question is why we in America have so little use for the term. As we've seen from the thread, the British, the French and the Australians -- among many others, I'm sure -- find it useful to have a ready term for half a month's worth of time. Why don't we?
Of course, after noting that Americans don't use the term, I just had to come across the term "fortnightly" this morning in the Wall Street Journal. Maybe it's a trend! Certain there are plenty of other British expressions that have moved across the pond in recent years.
#43
Old 11-22-2011, 01:24 PM
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Originally Posted by FatBaldGuy View Post
I have a real hard time trying to figure a legitimate reason to weigh things in stones.
But you're OK with 1mile = 1760 yards = 5280 feet = 63360 inches?
#44
Old 11-22-2011, 01:50 PM
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I thank the Celestial Beings that we don't keep track of days of the month like the Romans. The months had three labeled days: Kalends, Nones, and Ides. (as in March) (and I'm probably screwing this up horribly.)

So, a day in the month would be labeled, "three days before Nones," or "two days post Ides."

Compared to THAT, "Fortnight" is a breeze!


~VOW
#45
Old 11-22-2011, 11:06 PM
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I am also paid fortnightly, so I find it an extremely useful word. I may even try to resurrect sennight. If I could be paid sennightly, I'd be a very happy woman.
#46
Old 11-23-2011, 08:18 AM
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Originally Posted by DrDeth View Post
I sometimes use "sen-night" for a week.
Me too.

When I was at university in the UK, we had meetings with our tutors one day every other week--it was called a fortnightly class.
#47
Old 11-23-2011, 11:33 AM
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Originally Posted by BeaMyra View Post
I think part of the thing the OP is getting at, as someone else said, was the use of fortnight to mean more than one.

You can say we get paid every two weeks or every three weeks, or we go on holiday every month or every two months.

But you (usually) don't hear we get paid, every two fornights. You'd say, once a month. You'd not say, we get paid every half fornight. You'd say once a week.
There's no reason to measure in fortnights when the period of time in question roughly corresponds to a commonly used unit of time like a week or month. "Half a fortnight" takes longer to say/write and is less clear than just saying "a week". One doesn't usually say "every sixty minutes", "every seven days", or "every four weeks" either, because these more or less correspond to other common units for measuring time.
#48
Old 11-23-2011, 01:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Lamia View Post
There's no reason to measure in fortnights when the period of time in question roughly corresponds to a commonly used unit of time like a week or month. "Half a fortnight" takes longer to say/write and is less clear than just saying "a week". One doesn't usually say "every sixty minutes", "every seven days", or "every four weeks" either, because these more or less correspond to other common units for measuring time.
Yeah, it's just a word. Nobody consciously thinks they're saying 'fourteen nights' anyway and nobody would use it as a system of measurement for anything other than 'about two weeks'. It's just a handy word for a commonly used period of time. Language ain't logical.

Last edited by SanVito; 11-23-2011 at 01:06 PM.
#49
Old 11-23-2011, 02:14 PM
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Has the fact that American shows on the teley in Britain and else where use "every other week" or "every two weeks" had any effect on the use of "fortnight" by the young people who watch those damn American sitcoms?
#50
Old 11-23-2011, 02:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Mangosteen View Post
Has the fact that American shows on the teley in Britain and else where use "every other week" or "every two weeks" had any effect on the use of "fortnight" by the young people who watch those damn American sitcoms?
Not really, because those expressions were also already in use here.
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