I’ve explored two words on this website so far. In the first entry I discussed actually, needless because it adds nothing and clarifies nothing. In the second entry, a word that is not inherently needless but becomes so because it is often misused: myself.

Today I discuss biweekly, a word whose needlessness comes not from regular misuse or being dead weight, but from being ambiguous to the point of dysfunction.

People like to say biweekly…

People like to say biweekly in the business world. I do not know why. Every time I hear someone say biweekly, it is followed by one of two things: misunderstanding or a need for clarity. I recently heard someone suggest biweekly meetings, meaning meetings that would occur every other week. The other party responded with “two meetings a week is way too many.”

The thing about biweekly is that it’s not like literally, where there is an accurate usage and an inaccurate usage. If you google biweekly, you encounter an adjective, an adverb, and a noun—each of which has two possible definitions, each of which seem to be equally valid:

No, this is not unique to Google, nor is it something we can blame on Google.

I have an unabridged dictionary from 1977 that I keep on a large stand in my office. It belonged to my grandparents. I often consult it when I’m trying to see how a word has changed during my lifetime. Here is what it says about biweekly:

If you turn to the always reliable Merriam Webster, they confirm the simultaneous conflicting definitions but offer this hopeless clarity:

This ambiguity has been in existence for nearly a century and a half and cannot be eliminated by the dictionary.

It’s not a new thing for me to be annoyed with biweekly. I did a poll on Twitter recently to ask how one should refer to an event that occurs twice a month. While biweekly won, it won with 36%, confirming that no one knows anything:

In response to this poll, a friend replied, saying no one should use it:

I agree. There is only one solution here: eliminate biweekly. Scrub it from your lexicon. Toss it over your shoulder. It should not exist. One can be pedantic about literally because there are the rights and the wrongs. You can be a snob and tell someone not to use literally incorrectly. Whether or not you should correct someone on literally—whether or not literally is a lost cause—there is still a way to be correct and a way to be incorrect. Pedantry can win no wars against biweekly. The only thing to do is abandon it.

But we’re okay. We aren’t past hope.

Here are some options for what to say instead of biweekly:

  • Every other week: One could argue that “every other week” is bad, because that’s three words where one would do. But no one needs to clarify what “every other week” means. 
  • Fortnightly: A cool word, albeit old-fashioned and a little fussy. A good option if you’re the kind of person who says fortnightly—although the arrival of the video game Fortnite might make this one passe.
  • Twice monthly: This is what I say now. It’s simple. It’s honest. It’s straightforward. And it cannot be misunderstood. Something that happens twice a month is twice monthly.

Another part of why I prefer twice monthly is that it’s usually what biweekly means. A standard biweekly meeting is during the first and third weeks of the month, or the second and fourth. When months have fifth weeks—as many do—biweekly becomes more confusing, while twice monthly is an anchor of truth.

But wait. So far I have defined what you should say instead of one version of biweekly. What about the people who say biweekly to mean twice a week?

Here are some more options for what to say instead of biweekly:

  • Twice weekly
  • Twice a week
  • Two times a week
  • Every Tuesday and Thursday, or whatever the two days are.

None of these require followup, other than which two days you had in mind. (Sure, there is some possibility that that this definition of biweekly could involve something happening twice a week but have it be twice in one day, but that is the kind of absurdity up with which I will not put.)

Yes, there are other words whose meanings have been lost or garbled or muddled, but biweekly could be unique in there not having been a correct or real meaning during the lifetime of anyone on this planet. Send it packing. Schedule your twice monthly meetings. Hold your twice weekly stand-ups. Enjoy your fortnightly get-togethers. But eschew the biweekly anything, unless you are someone who thrives amidst confusion and ambiguity.

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