What does “soon” mean?

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief Ω

When you see a sign that says, “coming soon,” what do you assume?

“Soon” is a term with no fixed meaning. Sure, it has a “definition,” but that’s not really a “meaning.”

"Soon" is in the dictionary, but we still don't know what it means. Paul Wicks/Flickr Commons

“Soon” is in the dictionary, but we still don’t know what it means. Paul Wicks/Flickr Commons

The Oxford Canadian Dictionary — the guide we use as journalists in this country, by the way — defines soon as “within a short period of time,” but that really doesn’t mean anything, because who is to say what a short period if time is?

I’d say it depends on the context.

“Coming soon,” in regards to a multi-million dollar skyscraper in downtown New York City definitely has a different perceived meaning than someone texting you about how long they’ll be when they’re late to pick you up for class on their carpool day, for example. One automatically knows that the skyscraper is not going to be built by next week — but one also doesn’t expect the carpool driver to be more than about 15 minutes away. Yet both of these timeframes are labeled “soon.”

Our university is fantastic about manipulating this vagueness in their choice of language.

Starbucks in Old Main is a prime example. They closed the Tim Horton’s and boarded up the whole area for renovations, causing students to travel to the Brown Family House of Learning for their coffees and snacks (in order to avoid the atrocity that is UPSTAIRS VENUE), but we shrugged it off knowing that the Starbucks was “coming soon” according to the signage.

Then reports from our very own investigations showed conflicts between the university’s expected date of completion and the contractor’s view of the remaining work required.

But, hey, they all fall within a rage that could be considered “soon,” right?

And so I propose the following for everyone to consider: Let us not use vague language anymore in regards to timeframes, nor accept it from others.

When someone asks you how long you’re going to be, tell them in minutes. I’m not saying you can’t be wrong, or use an estimate (“I’m about 20 minutes away”) but “soon” or “almost there” shouldn’t be considered an acceptable answer.

And when your university tells you that they are “considering” something and that a report on a subject should be available “soon,” you shouldn’t stand for that.

This is a multi-million dollar corporation (make no mistake, this is a corporation — a subject for another time), and you are funding it, but you are also its shareholders. To allow them to use vague terms like “soon” and “many” and “a few” in regards to the services they offer to those who support their continuing existence and pay their salaries does us all an injustice and allows them to continue their self-sustaining public narrative rather than provide you with actual useful information.

I’d personally rather have them admit that they don’t know an answer than get an answer that is meaningless, wouldn’t you?

We need to hold them to account. When they say things like “Ready for students in Fall 2013” we need to say, “Fall is four months long! Be more specific!” so that we can point at them and call them liars when they willfully mislead us as they have in the past and continue to do so. Any classes happening on the third floor of Old Main yet, by the way?