Monday, April 5, 2010

How Soon is Soon?

In January, a friend told me that she would soon receive a promotion.  In March, my bank emailed an announcement to its customers that soon it would have a new program for its business accounts.  Last week, my boss reminded us that tax season would be over soon.

According to Webster’s dictionary, “soon” means “almost immediately, shortly, rapidly, in a short while.”  To my mind, soon is within a week or two at most.

So, my friend, whose promotion will effective on June 1, received her promotion eventually, nearly five months after she was told about it.  My bank still has not issued any information about the new program so their “soon” is actually defined as “when they feel like it.”  The only statement remotely close to being accurate is the one made by my boss because the official end of tax season is April 16 – even though my colleagues and I will be doing payroll tax returns until the end of April. 

One of the things my editor cautions me about repeatedly is that I must understand the meaning of words when I use them.  Language is the key to communication in all its forms and if we do not properly convey our intended meaning, we confuse those for whom the communication is intended.  Wars have started for lack of good communication.

Perhaps we use “soon” when we are reluctant to be held to a specific time frame but “soon” has some expectation of immediacy built into it.  If you tell me at the end of February that my account will be credited soon, I expect to see that credit before the end of March.

I suppose “soon” is like many over-worked words in our language.  We use it because it is convenient and the meaning is somewhat nebulous. 

I will soon end this entry with the hope that “soon” will soon be replaced with other, more precise words and that companies or people live up to "soon" whenever they use it.

Now is a good word.  I will end this column now.

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