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“shortly” October 7, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Definition.
Tags: , , ,


Yesterday I was working on some code and had a question for the person who requested it. So I sent her an e-mail. She e-mailed in return:

I’m not sure I understand what you mean. I’ll be there shortly to get more info.

On the surface, that seems like a positive response, right? She didn’t know what I meant, so instead of just guessing and making me do more work later, she’s going to discuss the question with me so neither of us have to do any more work than is strictly necessary.

CC-licensed photo by Lee Jordan.

CC-licensed photo by Lee Jordan.

My problem isn’t with her coming to see me. My problem is that she’s coming to see me shortly.

Define “shortly”, if you would. It could mean any number of things, including:

  • I’m going to get up from my desk and walk over to yours, which will take about one minute.
  • I’m going to finish what I’m doing, then get up from my desk and walk over to yours, which will take about five minutes.
  • I’ve got you in my task stack, which means I’ll get over there sometime fairly soon — maybe half an hour.
  • Just before lunch/before my check-out time.

In this case, it turned out to be the last one. Not so bad, since she e-mailed me back at 5:00 and she leaves at 6:00.

Except that I leave at 6:00 too.

Guess who got to stay late.

Now, there are times when you’re walking to see the person you said you’d see “shortly” and you get waylaid. That’s okay, but if it happens, say “I’m sorry, but Jim needed to check something with me and I got caught up.” Staying late isn’t so bad if it’s not intentional.

I personally recommend not using “shortly” in business communications. Say how many minutes you’ll be — or, at least, estimate. That way the other person can at least go to the bathroom without worrying about missing the impromptu confab.

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