Six-yearly, bi-monthly, every two months

Working on a magazine supplement this evening, I was surprised to read in the small print at the bottom of the flannel panel: "This supplement is published six-yearly."

The writer meant 'six times a year', but of course his turn of phrase could be taken to mean 'every six years'. So I changed the wording to 'every two months'. (It helped that I knew the supplement was published at regular intervals...)

One of my colleagues did suggest 'bi-monthly', but I decided not to use this as there seems to be some disagreement over whether it means 'twice a month' or 'every two months'. The OED Online concurs, saying "the ambiguous usage is confusing".

On reflection, 'every other month' might have been my best option. Not that it matters much, anyway - who reads the flannel panel?


Andrew Orange said...

I still can almost feel the delight I first felt upon hearing the term "flannel panel". I don't think the Wikipedia entry does it justice. In fact it's just plain wrong really.

Anonymous said...

I remember encountering this issue when I tried to sort out "bimonthly" and "twice weekly." If something is bi-something, it's two of that thing, not 1/2 of that thing (bipeds, for example), and it can't be both at the same time. I just don't buy that just because it's ambiguously used that we should perpetuate that ambiguity, do you? What I don't get is that people seem to understand that "biweekly" is every two weeks, but they also want "bimonthly" to mean twice a month. Weird.

Clare said...

It's the old biennial and biannual game. Every time I see one of thoese boys, I have to check with the reporter: 'Do you mean twice a year, or once every two years?'. Then I'd edit the copy to clarify.

I don't think our readers are thick (well not all of them), but if people who love words can mix those two up, it seems unhelpful to expect Joe Schmo to know the difference.

JD (The Engine Room) said...

Fortunately in British English we have the handy 'fortnightly', meaning every two weeks, which should free up 'biweekly' to mean 'twice a week'. Not sure it always works like that though.

And Andrew - I do like that the Wikipedia entry on 'flannel panel' quotes Amiga Power, a magazine I used to enjoy in my yoof. The Wikipedia entry on Amiga Power, incidentally, is rather a good one.

Jill E. Duffy said...

Hilariously, the OED says "flannel" cannot exist in the singular. See: