With less than two weeks before I stop referring to January 2007 and the spring of 2007 and the summer of 2007 and the fall of 2007 as this January and spring and summer and fall and start talking about last January and spring and summer and fall, I thought I'd go over my chronological taxonomy once more. Here's an example from one of my favorite publications that I saved for blogging but never managed to get around to:
Last summer, vandals broke into St. Luke's Church in Hodnet, England, where some legends place the Grail, damaging an organ pipe and a stone wall.I have no idea what this means. Oh, hell, I guess I do -- "last summer" probably doesn't mean the summer of last year, but, for heaven's sake, this summer ended less than two months before this was printed, and yet the writer is evoking Grandpa sitting in his rocking chair waxing poetic: "Ah, yes, the summer of ought-seven . . ."
My system, in case I haven't already bored you with this, is basically to use this as long as we're still in the same larger period of time as the smaller period of time that's being referred to. New Year's Day isn't last January until Dec. 31 is over. Sunday isn't last Sunday until there's a new Sunday. It's not always so simple, but basically the point is to avoid ambiguity. Because last and next are used to mean both "the last/next one to occur" and "the one in last/next [larger period of time]," it's a good idea to avoid the print equivalent of the "not this Saturday, but next Saturday" conversation that we've all had. And usually, to me, this works well. It's pretty obvious what "this spring" means if you're reading it in October. Now, "this January" could be confusing on Dec. 19, so "this past January" and "this coming January" are fine (though "next month" would do nicely in the latter case).
An extra added bonus bit of tid from the same article:
Today, a slew of groups is betting that current technology will be able to find her plane.A slew is betting. Those slews, they are a gambling type. The groups are doing the betting. A slew of groups are betting. Yes, slew is singular, but that doesn't matter, unless you'd also say, well, "a lot of people is confused," because lot is singular. (You've definitely heard this one before, but it bears repeating.)