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Semantic difficulty

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barbados
1374609.  Mon Feb 15, 2021 11:07 am Reply with quote

And to think we were sooooooo close

 
Brock
1375423.  Tue Feb 23, 2021 10:14 am Reply with quote

[As this topic falls squarely into the category of "nerdy over-examination of semantics", this would seem to be the appropriate thread.]

The context is the Government's "road map" for easing the lockdown in England, which puts "no earlier than" dates on several stages.

post 1375400

dr.bob wrote:
And yet they've imposed limits on which date that will happen by.


post 1375404

Brock wrote:
No, they've imposed no limits on when it will happen by. These are "no earlier than" dates, not "no later than" dates.


post 1375405

crissdee wrote:
Which is still surely a limit, just a retrograde limit. "No earlier than" is just as much of a limit as "No later than".


post 1375406

Brock wrote:
Yes, but that's not a limit on when it will happen by. In the context of time, "by" means "no later than".

If you lend me a tenner, and I say "I'll pay you back by next Wednesday", that means "no later than next Wednesday". I think you'd have a right to be rather disgruntled if I chose to pay you back in three months' time!


post 1375417

dr.bob wrote:

crissdee wrote:

"No earlier than" is just as much of a limit as "No later than".


Quite so.


I have no disagreement on that point. "Step 2 will happen no earlier than 12 April" is certainly a limit on when step 2 will happen. My issue was whether "step 2 will happen no earlier than 12 April" is a limit on when step 2 will happen by.

The COED says that the preposition "by" is used to indicate the end of a time period, as in my earlier example of "I'll pay you back by Wednesday". Saying that step 2 will happen no earlier than 12 April isn't putting any sort of limit on the end of a time period. It's putting a limit on the beginning of a time period.

So I don't see how you can say that "step 2 will happen no earlier than 12 April" puts a limit on when step 2 will happen by. "Step 2 will happen no later than [date]" would put a limit on when it will happen by.

 
dr.bob
1375428.  Tue Feb 23, 2021 10:49 am Reply with quote

I see your point, and I completely agree. If you remove the word "by" from my original post, my point stands much more coherently.

Thank you for the correction.

 
Brock
1375437.  Tue Feb 23, 2021 11:49 am Reply with quote

Good. One of the easier issues to sort out!

 
dr.bob
1375483.  Wed Feb 24, 2021 4:59 am Reply with quote

Apologies for that. Maybe we should argue for a few more pages yet, just for tradition if nothing else :)

 
Brock
1375484.  Wed Feb 24, 2021 5:25 am Reply with quote

I did spend some time thinking about whether any sensible interpretation could be given to "step 2 will happen by no earlier than 12 April".

It would presumably mean that the latest date on which step 2 will happen is no earlier than 12 April - i.e. that step 2 will happen on or before some unspecified date in the future, which may fall on 12 April or later. In other words, it's equivalent to saying that step 2 may happen on any future date whatsoever!

 
Brock
1375515.  Wed Feb 24, 2021 9:45 am Reply with quote

Apropos of this discussion, it really doesn't help when I read reports like this in the media:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/24/the-forecasts-that-spooked-boris-johnson-into-slowing-exit-from-lockdown

"On Monday, Boris Johnson announced his roadmap for lifting all Covid restrictions by 21 June..."

He did no such thing. In fact his roadmap made clear that all Covid restrictions would not be lifted until 21 June at the earliest.

When the people reporting the news can't even use the preposition "by" correctly, what hope is there for the rest of us?

 

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