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#12174 - 12/06/00 07:18 PM Fortnight
stales Offline
old hand

Registered: 11/13/00
Posts: 866
Loc: Perth, Western Australia
I discovered to my amazement some years ago that a Canadian guy working here in Australia just stared at me blankly when I said a particular task would "take a fortnight to complete". It would thus seem the term (which refers to a two week period) ISN'T in use throughout the English speaking world.

Please let me know where you are in the world and whether "fortnight" is in common usage there.

I was particularly surprised that it was a North American that hadn't heard the word. One only has to think of a military fort and one automatically thinks of North America.

In comparison to the multitude of forts in the USA and Canada, there have only been a couple of well-known forts in Australia - Fort Denison (in Sinny Arba, right in frunna the Oprowse) in particular. Could it be that our paltry few have contributed this term to Australian English??

(I'm guessing that a "fortnight" referred initially to a two-week tour of duty?)

stales


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#12175 - 12/06/00 07:58 PM Re: Fortnight
Marty Offline
enthusiast

Registered: 09/20/00
Posts: 347
Loc: Melbourne, Australia
Hi stales,

Nothing to do with forts, I'm afraid. It's a contraction of "fourteen nights". Merriam-Webster's online dictionary gives this:

Main Entry: fort·night
Pronunciation: 'fOrt-"nIt, 'fort-
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English fourtenight, alteration of fourtene night, from Old English fEowertyne niht fourteen nights
Date: before 12th century
: a period of 14 days : two weeks

At least one other dictionary has it as "British and Australian". I know from previous discussions on the board that our Kiwi mates also use it. Try using the Search function for the word 'fortnight' (ignoring the thread "Challenge of the Fortnight"). You might like to also search for the much rarer 'sennight' (= seven days, a week) which old (cool) hand tsuwm cast before a stunned readership way back when.


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#12176 - 12/06/00 10:23 PM Re: Fortnight
Capital Kiwi Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 11/13/00
Posts: 3146
Loc: Northamptonshire, England
Marty replied: At least one other dictionary has it as "British and Australian". I know from previous discussions on the board that our Kiwi mates also use it. Try using the Search function for the word 'fortnight' (ignoring the thread "Challenge of the Fortnight"). You might like to also search for the much rarer 'sennight' (= seven days, a week) which old (cool) hand tsuwm cast before a stunned readership way back when.

Marty has it dead right. "Se'ennight' was a term used in a diary by an Otago gold miner in the 1860s, Alphonse Barrington. He used it to describe how long he was stuck in a tent under snow in a particularly inhospitable (and goldless) piece of Godzone. Apart from that I've only seen it used by the authors of historical novels like Georgette Heyer and Susan Howarth. It was (apparently) in use in Britain by the "upper crust" during the early part of the 19th Century (NO, I'M NOT GOING DOWN THAT ROUTE AGAIN!).

Fortnight is just a contraction of "fourteen nights". Your dictionary is probably right about its roots.

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#12177 - 12/07/00 07:15 AM Re: Fortnight
FishonaBike Offline
veteran

Registered: 10/11/00
Posts: 1346
Loc: Sussex, England
forntnight...Se'ennight

Yep, we definitely use "fortnight" here amongst the dark satanic mills. Never ever heard even a reference to se'ennight(s) though. Why not just say "week"?

I suppose you can have 5 or 6 day working weeks. Is that relevant?


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#12178 - 12/07/00 08:36 AM Re: Fortnight
of troy Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 10/17/00
Posts: 5400
Loc: rego park
curious-- i just heard fortnight on TV new this week-- a national broadcast--I thought it strange– its not that most of don't know the meaning of the word–wait let me back track many might be closer. But its never used.

just as we know what you are talking about when you say lift or lorry, but we take our elevators and truck stuff about .

the only time I have seen sennight is in Patterns by Amy Lowell– and I had to look it up! Aside from there, the dictionary I looked it up, I have never seen it in print, anywhere else.

what I like about fortnight and suspect it hold true for sennight, is it can be a fortnight Wednesday–say from December 6 to December 20. Where as a week starts with Sunday. So sennight is seven days–but a week is from Sunday to Sunday? Does that make sense? (Or is it just my personal interpretation?)

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#12179 - 12/07/00 09:14 AM Re: Fortnight
Faldage Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 12/01/00
Posts: 13803
As a life long born here Merkin I have heard the term fortnight, mostly in the phrase "furlongs per fortnight" which is, I believe, meant to indicate that, although the speaker recognizes that units of measure are arbitrary, some just make more sense than others.

N.B. I have never actually heard anything truly being measured in furlongs per fortnight.


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#12180 - 12/07/00 09:36 AM Re: Fortnight
maverick Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 09/15/00
Posts: 4757
never actually heard anything truly being measured in furlongs per fortnight

Funny how you can just know when someone has never walked behind a horse drawn plough...


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#12181 - 12/07/00 10:04 AM Re: Fortnight
Faldage Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 12/01/00
Posts: 13803
In reply to:

Funny how you can just know when someone has never walked behind a horse drawn plough


Not only am I a full-blooded Merkin but a city boy, to boot. If memory serves, most of the time I have heard the unit furlongs per fortnight used it has been used in reference to the speed of light. There are large pockets of horse drawn plows(sic) not far from where I live these days.


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#12182 - 12/07/00 10:40 AM Re: Fortnight
tsuwm Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 04/03/00
Posts: 10524
Loc: this too shall pass
just a couple of quick comments...

sennight - "why not just say "week"?" fortnight - why not just say "two weeks"? (same number of key strokes, same number of sylLAbles)

Merkin - http://www.quinion.com/words/articles/merkin.htm (submitted without comment)


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#12183 - 12/07/00 11:20 AM Re: Yankee Doodle
Faldage Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 12/01/00
Posts: 13803
Merkin - http://www.quinion.com/words/articles/merkin.htm (submitted without comment)

I never knew!


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