Discuss word origins and meanings.
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Post by Archived Topic » Tue Mar 16, 2004 7:15 am

Dear netters

While writing a business letter, I wrote "If the Chinese student is not able to get a "VISA" for any reason, the tuition fee will be returned directly." at
the first time but a native speaker told me that 'DIRECTLY' could imply 'SLOWLY'. So I changed it to 'as soon as possible'. Is it true?

My teacher on Writing group on line told me like this:

How curious. I have NEVER heard any use of 'DIRECTLY' that could even remotely imply 'SLOWLY'. Perhaps that usage represents usage in some regional dialect. You could check the complete OED (Oxford English Dictionary), which includes examples of obscure variants.

I failed to access to the OED online cause I have no account. What is your idea?

Youngim Jung from Korea
Submitted by ( - )

[h]Posted - 01 Mar 2006 : 00:46:37[/h] I am new to this site, and I love it!!

I am from the Missouri Ozarks, and there is quite a bit of "interesting" word usage in my area.

The one I have been looking for is "directly." I found the only post about it, and I have to add my two cents.

For years, I thought when somebody told me that they were going to do something "directly," they were telling me they were going to do it right away. I finally realized, that's not what it means. Every old timer in this area that uses the word, means that they are going to do it when they get around to it, but it won't be too long.
It's not a matter of laziness on their part, they are just using the word the way they have always heard it being used.r]

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Post by Archived Reply » Tue Mar 16, 2004 7:29 am

I too don't believe that any use of 'directly' could imply 'slowly'.

However, there is another reason to avoid 'directly' in the context of your letter. This is because of the ambiguity which could mean either that 1) the fee will be returned immediately or 2), that it will be returned without going via an intermediary.

There may not be any problem with this in practice, depending on what your audience believes about what arrangements are possible or likely, but it's a distinction you ought to be aware of.

In general I don't think you need to worry overmuch about the obscure variants of usage your teacher refers to. Business letters are normally effective only when they are clear in their meaning, so it would make no sense to worry about a usage that your teacher (who presumably knows his/her subject) is unfamiliar with.

However, I do wonder why you chose to capitalise the word 'visa' and place it in inverted commas in the sentence you quoted, since there doesn't seem to be any special reason for emphasising it in this way.

A couple of other suggestions:

- Substitute "in the first instance" for "at the first time";

- Change "I failed to access to the OED online cause I have no account" to "I failed to access the OED online because I have no account."

I hope this is useful to you.
Reply from Erik Kowal (Reading - England)
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Post by Archived Reply » Tue Mar 16, 2004 7:44 am

Well, some people I know, when they say "I will do this directly" you just know it will not happen very fast... but that's more to do with their having a rather thorough personality or a strong lazy streak.
Reply from Meirav Barkan (London - England)

[h]Posted - 01 Mar 2006 : 04:18:50[/h] In Britain, the word 'presently' can have the same ambiguity of meaning. What I believe is the older usage carries the meaning 'shortly', 'at some unspecified time in the near future', whereas the more recent usage carries the meaning 'now', 'right away'. But I hasten to say that both connotations generally manage to coexist without creating too much misunderstanding -- in most cases, the context makes it clear which meaning is intended.

An older posting on the same topic has been merged with Debz's above question and Erik Kowal's response
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Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Mar 01, 2006 6:48 am

Deborah, The archived posting on this subject was locked and you did the right thing by starting another posting. I’ve now consolidated your posting with the older one so we have both discussions under one heading

This is very interesting and I’ve never given the question any thought. But I know exactly what you are talking about because my Arkansas-born stepmother, who now lives just down the road from you in Kimberling City, Missouri, uses DIRECTLY just as you described. In fact, she would sometimes say something like “Hold on. I’ll be there directly.” And here DIRECTLY never did mean right away. It was sort of “I’ll be there when I’m finished with what I’m doing.” It meant the open ended SOON but definitely not right away. Actually, it has much the same meaning – but perhaps a little slower – as JUST A MINUTE because when someone says that they often mean much more than a minute – “I’ll be there when I’m done with what I’m doing.” Mark Twain had one of his characters explain how Americans as opposed to the English thought of DIRECTLY in just this way. (see 1882 quote below), although that is probably not true today and might not have been true in the time of Twain either.

My New York City mom, on the other hand, never used the expression and I don’t recall hearing it out of NYC folks when I lived there. So it seems like it might be a regional thing and the Oxford English Dictionary lists it as ‘dialect’ of the U.S. (although the 1891 quote below has it as British Dialect at that time). Several other dictionaries also gave it as one of the alternate definitions in contrast to ‘immediately’ or ‘at once.’:

DIRECTLY: shortly, soon, in a little while after a little, presently, as soon as one could. <“They will be here directly.”> <We'll discuss that directly; first we must act on this motion.”>

Exactly how this expression came to have this alternate meaning among some people and not others is hard to say, but one can see how to soften the blow of saying I can’t come immediately, one might come up with, “I’ll be there as directly as I can, but not right away,” which might eventually have gotten shortened to “I’ll be there directly.”
<1851 “Supper?—you want supper? Supper'll be ready DIRECTLY!”—‘Moby Dick’ by Melville, I. iii. page 20>

<1882 “When you say you will do a thing ‘DIRECTLY,’ you mean ‘immediately’; in the American language—generally speaking—the word signifies ‘after a little.’”—‘The Stolen White Elephant’ by Mark Twain, xvi. page 268>

<1891 “Drackly or dreckly, DIRECTLY; in the dialect this does not mean immediately, but shortly. ‘I'll kom drackly; I mus' finish ot I'm 'bout fust.’”—‘Dialect of Hartland, Devonshire,’ by R. P. Chope, page 40>

<1936 “Scarlett leaned over the banisters. ‘I'll be down TERRECLY, Rhett,’ she called.”—‘Gone With the Wind’ by Mitchell, xlvi. page 824> [[ And three hours later she came down! (<:)]]

<1976 “He told me to go down to the boat and he would be there DIRECTLY.”—‘The Winterhur Portfolio’ (Soldier and Seamen in the American Revolution), Vol. 11 page 68>
Ken G – February 28, 2006


Post by Wizard of Oz » Wed Mar 01, 2006 11:35 am

.. just to round things out I can add that my Grandparents, Scottish, and my parents all used the expression, I will (verb) directly, with the meaning of it WILL happen but in my own good time ..

WoZ of Aus 01/03/06
Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."


Post by Debz » Wed Mar 01, 2006 11:55 am

Exactly. I'll bet the people in the Appalachians use the word in the same way. I have studied Appalachian and Ozark mountain heritage, and I have learned that, for the most part, the people of the Ozark region came from the Appalachians. We have a lot of the same customs, play the same style of music (bluegrass) and I am guessing, have some of the same word patterns. The MOST interesting thing about it, is that the original people that settled in the mountains of Appalachia came from Scotland and Ireland. The genuine hillbillies' word pronounciation, has an Irish or Scottish sound to it, although if you would ask them about it, they wouldn't have a clue as to what you were talking about. You would just have to hear it.

Although I am not Scottish or Irish, I was raised in this culture and speak the same way, as everybody is who has been raised in the area. It is a shame that the culture itself is almost gone. People who make fun of the hillfolk, might not realize that they are contributing to taking away their heritage.


Post by Andrew Dalby » Fri Mar 03, 2006 7:51 pm

PRESENTLY is another one. When some people say 'presently' they mean 'right here and now'. When my mum said 'you can have it presently', she meant 'we'll wait till you've forgotten you ever wanted it'. There you are, Debz, I knew I'd have to quote my mum eventually.

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