“Fortnightly” Falls Short

In its first season, the extremely popular American podcast “Serial” released one episode a week. However, in the middle of the second season, currently under way, the producers have changed to a once-every-two-weeks schedule. But what should they call it?

There were two obvious options, the American “biweekly” and the British “fortnightly,” a word that had heretofore been confined on these shores mainly to coverage of Grand Slam tennis tournaments. Serial decided to ask the public to choose, via a Twitter poll. If “fortnightly” were to win, it would truly be a red-letter day for Not One-Off Britishisms.

The final tally was close indeed.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 10.00.56 PM

“Fortnightly,” as the saying goes, will have to wait till next year.

32 thoughts on ““Fortnightly” Falls Short

  1. The only time I’ve seen an actual use of “fortnightly” in the wild was in Michael Myers’ criminally underrated “So I Married An Axe Murderer”.

    The character was a Scot, so it’s not even a NOOB.

  2. At first, I thought you were going to say they forgot the middle “t” in “fortnightly.” But I guess it was just you.

    When I was growing up in Akron, Ohio, the menfolk in my neighborhood formed a club to play penny-ante poker every two weeks. They called it the “Idlewood Avenue Fortnightly Social Club.”

    And once, my cousin had an argument with her fiancé over whether “biweekly” meant “every two weeks” or “twice a week.”

    1. I too have this problem as to whether bi-weekly means twice a week (similarly, bi-monthly and bi-annually). Biennial means once every two years, as in the Venice Bienniale, but I have seen bi-annually used to mean twice a year.

    2. Yes, by definitions, biweekly can mean either of those. Due to the confusion, I use semiweekly for twice per week and biweekly for every two. (All words used herein pass spell-checkers, confirming their correctness.)

  3. As a Brit I have to say ‘fortnightly’ is not common usage. ‘every fortnight’ would be preferred. and bi–weekly is confusing.

    1. Also a Brit, and ‘fortnightly’ wouldn’t cause me to raise my eyebrows in the slightest. ‘Bi-weekly’ would cause me to ask for clarification.

      A quick search of my work email archive returns several references to fortnightly meetings.

  4. As another Brit, I would definitely think ‘bi-weekly’ was twice a week and ‘bi-annually’ twice a year. If something happened every two weeks, I would say “once a fortnight” or “once every 14 days” or “on alternate Sundays”, etc.

  5. In 1980 I worked in an educational bookshop in England. An American professor ordered an English language book and I told her it should arrive in about a fortnight. She sharply rebuked me, criticising me for using a silly, British term. It never occurred to me that a word such as ‘fortnight’ would be seen as odd abroad but I will never forget it.

  6. 1. “Serial,” being a podcast and not a television program, was not heretofore on my radar. I looked it up and tried to listen to SEASON ONE: EPISODE 01 while responding, but I can’t listen and read or compose at the same time.
    2. I object to classifying “fortnightly” as a British term, as if it had little or no presence in America. Yes, it probably originated there long ago, but per Google Ngram, its usage didn’t start picking up in Britain until 1860, as opposed to 1880 in the U.S. Since then, it’s been roughly half as popular in the U.S. as in the U.K., which hardly casts its U.S. usage as insignificant, with steady declines on both shores since the 1970s.
    3. Given this evidence, one might posit (subject to further research) that
    a. whereas the Twitterverse is probably populated more by people born after the 1970s than those born before, and
    b. whereas the podcast deals with teenagers and is therefore more likely to have a younger following,
    it is surprising that results in favor of young people should be as slight as they are.

  7. When I was young, my mother used to complain her cup of tea was “fortnight.” Her oft repeated “joke” was an indication that she considered the tea “too week”…… I’ll bet none of you have ever heard that before…….

      1. Thank you Ben! I try my best amongst you intellectuals. Week should have been spelled weak! Are you back in the U.S.? How was Melbourne?

    1. On the subject of weak drinks, although not of Britishisms, I have heard, in Canada, the comment that American beer is like ‘love in a canoe’ ie, effing near water.

      1. On the subject of strong tea, we lean towards using Cuffy’s comment (from ‘The Saturdays’ by Elizabeth Enright): “My – that’s strong enough to take the veneer off a pianna!”

        At the other end of the scale, the very religious family of a boyfriend of mine at University used to refer to very weak tea as Nuns’, i.e. nuns’ wee.

  8. I think I’d go for biweekly, even though I cross the boundaries of British and American. But I’m certainly going to think hard about my audience next time I use it!

  9. As a Brit I would be horrendously confused by bi-weekly. Does it mean twice per week or two weekly? Fortnightly is much more obvious as to what you intend. Bi-monthly is just as confusing.

  10. Whenever I hear anyone use biweekly I always ask for clarification. I haven’t kept tally but I think almost half of the people I’ve asked have used it to mean twice-a-week.

  11. In the 1970’s I was working as a veterinary surgeon in Patrick Henry Village near Heidelberg (then W Germany).
    I fell foul of fortnight on my very first day there. I told a client to bring his dog back in a fortnight. At the end of the consultation the client went back to reception to ask what I was talking about. She didn’t know either, so she had to ask me.
    Needless to say I didn’t use the word again.

  12. Fortnightly all the way. Biweekly would confuse me and I would need to ask for clarification on meaning! However I’m sure fortnightly may confuse others! Given that due to different regional dialects there can be confusion of words in the same country, TV can’t get it right all the time!

  13. Could I throw in here that there is a generally obsolete word for a week in UK-English is “senight” (seven-nights). And, while on the subject, that the Welsh word for week is “wythnos”, which actually means “eight nights”.

    I’m not sure what that says about the Welsh…

  14. I’m for dispensing with biweekly altogether and going with semiweekly and fortnightly, as appropriate. Who’s with me? Not many, I suppose. Regardless, I can do that in my own practice without fear of misuse. Whee!

    1. So does semiweekly mean the opposite of whatever biweekly means at any given moment, or do you think it consistently means one or the other?

  15. New Zealanders Flight Of The Conchords use it in a spoof of a certain variety of vintage US hiphop:

    “I pay my mutha uckin’ rent fortnightly…”

    Not sure if that’s Bret and Jemaine deliberately using a non-American word for comic effect, or Bret and Jemaine simply not knowing it was a non-American word.

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