Is it really true what they say about fortnights?

I just came across a disturbing bit of information. Apparently “fortnight” is British English, and Americans don’t know what it means! I have many questions!

  • Is this really true?
  • How did I not know this?
  • Do I have to go back and remove every mention of ‘fortnight” from my translations?

I never bother to find the meaning of this.
Today I learned it means fourteen nights!

It’s apparently quite a hot topic, debated widely in the usual places:'t+know+what+fortnight+means&gl=us&gws_rd=cr

Obviously literate Americans know what it means, but I’ve seen several comments by Americans to the effect that they would only use it in ironic or joking contexts, or even that they didn’t know it at all. Writing for an audience inclusive of those who learn American English as a second language, I’m thinking it should be avoided.

[quote=“sujato, post:1, topic:5999”]
Apparently “fortnight” is British English, and Americans don’t know what it means!
[/quote]Its more of a generational thing than a geographical one. Almost no one in my generation knows what a fortnight is. The word seems medieval to us.

A “fortnight” is a comically old-timey way to say “in a few days or something like that, whenever” to most millennials, I believe. I myself knew it was a length of time, but had to google the actual amount of time in question.

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In Oz, wages are often paid fortnightly, so it’s very different.

Yes this is true! Americans do not know what a fortnight is!

Should you remove from translations? Are you writing generally in US or British English?

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There’s a specific Pali usage, pakkha, for a “phase” of the moon, i.e. a fortnight. It also has addhamāsa, “a half-month”.

In some cases, it seems clumsy to use anything else. For example:

So mendicants, for a human being with a hundred years life span I have counted the life span, the limit of the life span, the seasons, the years, the months, the fortnights, the nights, the days, the meals, and the things that prevent them from eating.

What can I say here? “the biweekly periods”?

Well, the idea is to use bland international English, which basically means American. However, as this shows, I don’t really know what the differences are!

No-one has bashed anyone.

Please go ahead. We love Crocodile Dundee! :crocodile:


[quote=“sujato, post:10, topic:5999”]
What can I say here? “the biweekly periods”?
[/quote]That would be readily understandable by most Canadian youths, from my experience. I assume we are in cultural sprachbund with at least the north of America. I don’t know anyone under the age of 35 who I would think would know what I fortnight is without having to google it.

Then again, people interested in Buddhist scripture are going to, by necessity, be interested in and/or prepared to be googling ideas and concepts that they don’t understand, and trying to sort through information to find good sources from there. So I wouldn’t say it is an issue.

EDIT: actually, an issue I see here is as to if “bi-weekly” means every two weeks or twice a week. But fortnight isn’t an issue in the age of google.


There is an extensive Wikipedia discussion of such matters; and of course they vary by region, too.

Well, that’s a bit too easy, isn’t it? I aim to make it as comprehensible as possible. If there are obscure concepts or ideas, then sure, some research may be warranted, but I think we can figure out how to say “two weeks”!

Yeah biweekly to me sounds like twice a week.

Half-months? Although if it’s pakkha as you mention above, I guess it has to contrast with addhamāsa.

‘A waning/waxing of the moon’? Hm, clumsy.

Fortnight seems best. I suppose you can’t avoid it. In the example you give, a reader could even figure out what it is - less than a month, more than a week, fort-night, fourteen nights…two weeks! If it’s any consolation :laughing:

I have never heard the word used by my parents, nor by my peers in school, or presently among peers or the general public. The only time I might have heard the word used was during discussions of Monty Python episodes, when I was a kid in school.

It is too good of a word to remove. To me, it is one of those British English words that is a standard, and we Yanks need to step up and become familiar with such noble words. Most of us study a bit of Shakespeare or Chaucer in school so we’ve come across the word. I prefer rubbish to the American “trash.” Wishing someone a “cheers” at the end of a meeting is a lovely British borrowed gesture. Bum is a useful word. “Pub” is always preferred to “bar.” “Holiday” a nicer word than “vacation.”

We Yanks need an upgrade in our lexicon in many ways. In a fortnight or two, I’ll think of some other examples.

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If that is not the very best reason to use it, I don’t know what is.


As long as we don’t refer to forest ascetics as “knights who say ni!!” I think we’re good. :slight_smile:

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[quote=“AnagarikaMichael, post:17, topic:5999, full:true”]
As long as we don’t refer to forest ascetics as “knights who say ni!!” I think we’re good. :slight_smile:
[/quote]Perhaps the Knights who say “nay”?

Oh dear… Renunciation jokes. I should be quiet now.

Goodnight folks.


I think it is probably true that most Americans do not know what “fortnight” means. Nevertheless, if they were paying attention, they probably once learned what it means in an English class in high school, because they probably came across it in some piece of English literature, and the teacher explained the meaning to them.

It’s similar to “score.” It would be rare for a contemporary American to use or understand the word “score” as a synonym for “twenty”. Nevertheless, a teacher probably once explained to them that the fourscore and seven years referred to in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address amounted to 87 years.

[quote=“Cara, post:14, topic:5999, full:true”]
Yeah biweekly to me sounds like twice a week. …[/quote]
That one usually takes a moment to be sure of –
biweekly – every two weeks
semiweekly – twice a week

I only learned fortnight when I moved to Australia (I grew up in the US). It seemed like a strange word when I encountered it. It still feels strange, but I am used to it by now.

The only American alternatives are the already mentioned biweekly ( and and just the literal rendering of “two weeks” or “every two weeks”. I want to say biweekly is more formal in America and would generally not be used in casual communication. My feeling is that it is used more often in work or legal environments. Also, as you can see in the wikipedia entry, biweekly can mean twice a week in British English and so doesn’t solve the original problem very well for an international audience.


The only unambiguous way to write fortnight :smiling_imp:

for days in range(14):
    Staying_at_Rajagaha = True
    while Staying_at_Rajagaha:

Hello @cjmacie,

I am afraid this is not necessarily true.

For once the french language as something usefull in this case (the fortnight I mean):

bimensuel = twice a month
bimestriel = every two month

Whilst in english you have (from the aforementionned url) something similar at the year level:

biannual = twice a year
biennial = every other year

So, it should be accepted that ‘bi’ can mean every 2 something and every half…

Go figure!


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One of the early decisions in shaping the USA was to decide on an official language. German lost to English by one vote. (Some might consider that one of the first big mistakes. It might have avoided nonsense like this thread.)

Another decision, on the other hand, was to adopt the word “Thaler” i.e. “dollar”, for the currency. The term “Thaler” came from Boehmia, where, however, the administrative language from the early 17th century to about the time of the American Revolution, was German. Go figure…:money_mouth_face:

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