Schedulers stumble over what ‘next’ week means
The word "next" is what linguists and philosophers call an "indexical" – a "linguistic expression whose reference can shift from context to context."
If today is Monday, when is next Sunday? What about if today is Friday, or also a Sunday? Many appointments have been missed and many planners have been frustrated because the answer is not always the same, though theoretically, it should be. Next means “immediately adjacent (as in place, rank, or time),” as Merriam-Webster puts it, so whether it’s Monday, April 4; Friday, April 8; or Sunday, April 3, the “immediately adjacent” Sunday is April 10. That’s too easy for the English language and its speakers, though, and “next Sunday” can be April 17 as well.
The answer varies with geography. People in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and much of the United States would most likely mean April 17; in southern England, it tends to be April 10. Even if you know the trend where you are, though, the answer can vary from speaker to speaker. Why is next so hard to pin down, and are there any rules that can help?
Next is what linguists and philosophers call an indexical, “a linguistic expression whose reference can shift from context to context,” according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Indexicals are often a source of semantic ambiguity. “Tomorrow” seems like it should be perfectly clear, but if you’re in Boston on a Monday at 9 p.m. and talking to someone in Tokyo, “tomorrow” will be Tuesday for you, but Wednesday for them.
Though similar time zone issues can arise with “next + day of the week” too, the main source of confusion comes from its “implicit point of reference,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In some places, next takes the current day as its starting point: If today is Monday, April 4, then “next Saturday” refers to the Saturday most immediately following the Monday, which would be April 9. More often, though, next takes the entire, current week as its point of reference: If it’s Monday, April 4, then “next Saturday” would be the Saturday that most immediately follows once the current week (which includes Saturday, April 9) is over, or April 16.
Often speakers with the “week” point of reference will differentiate Saturday, April 9, as “this Saturday” (it’s part of “this week”) or, as in Scotland and Northern Ireland, “Saturday first.” In southern England and the U.S., where “next Saturday” is April 9, April 16 would often be “Saturday week.”
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the this/next distinction is spreading, so even if you know where a person comes from, you can’t be sure about what they mean. To avoid all possibility of confusion, there is no elegant solution – you just have to use precise dates and times.