The British use this adverb, in a time sense, where Americans traditionally use right or immediately or just, most commonly in such phrases as directly after or directly before, but also by itself, to mean straightaway, as in this line from Jane Eyre (1847): “He sat down: but he did not get leave to speak directly.”

It is popping up over here, prominently in a Sam Sifton New York Times Magazine recipe for rosemary-garlic crusted pork butt that I aim to make tomorrow night (I will let you know how it goes):

“These [peaches] you will cut in half and pit, directly before cooking.”

And there is also:

  • “CBS is preparing online specials for directly before and after its television coverage, the latter anchored by Scott Pelley.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, August 25, 2012)
  • “Maj. Gen. Paul Lefebvre retired during a small, private ceremony directly before handing command of Marine Corps special operations to Maj. Gen. Mark Clark…” (Jacksonville Daily News, August 24, 2012)
  • “Littlepage stated that directly after hearing the noise, her steering wheel began to jerk from side to side.” (Surfky.com News, August 25, 2012)

I used Google Ngram to compare relative frequency of right after and directly after in the U.S. because I couldn’t figure out any other way to isolate this meaning from all the (many) other ones directly has. The results in the chart below show that right after (red) overtook directly after (blue) in about 1925, but that d.a. stopped the lexical bleeding in the ’90s and is starting on the road back. (In Britain, directly after didn’t take the lead till the ’50s and even since then has had a respectable showing.)

16 thoughts on ““Directly”

  1. Re. Jane Eyre, that usage could mean ‘directly’ in the sense of person-to-person, or one-to-one.

  2. I don’t think this counts as a noobism.

    I compared all of “directly after”, “immediately after”, “right after”, “straight after” and “just after”.

    The ngram results show that “directly after” has consistently very similar occurrence levels in both British and US English, and that in both cases levels are way below those for “immediately after”. The only significant disparity when comparing British and US is the relatively high occurrence of “right after” in US English.

    1. Good observations. It maybe that the real Britishism is “directly,” by itself, to mean “right away.” The problem, as noted, is that “directly” has other, much more popular, meanings, making it hard to search for frequency of this one.

  3. When somebody in the West Country (England) says he will do something directly, he means “in a wee while” or “mañana”.

  4. in Native Texan regional diialect “We’ll be goin’ here directly.” means the same as the northern Mexico Spanish dialect “Ahorita si vamos.” Basically “Now in little bit”.

  5. “Directly” is a good old Southern expression: “When do y’all reckon on marrying? Oh, directly, soon as the weather gets tolerable.” Means pretty soon now.

  6. In Cornwall, in the far south west of England, “directly” (as in “I’ll be there directly”) does have a similar meaning to the Spanish “Manana” – but without the sense of urgency!

  7. As an eastern European living in the UK, I find this blog very interesting. With most of the expression I feel like “Wow, I know this one, never knew that this one is original British” but this one is different. I never heard anyone using directly this way.

  8. I thought the Britishism, which I’ve read in hundreds of Victorian novels, was to use “directly” to mean “as soon as”: “He poured himself a drink directly she had left the house.” My reading brain always boggles a bit.

  9. I can confirm that “directly” is often used in the American South exactly the same way as its use is described above in Scotland. When you ask someone to do something and he says, “I’ll see to that directly,” it means, “I’ll take care of it soon. Not immediately, but in the near future.”

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