April 19, 2011

Timely and timeously

“Timely” and "timeously" are synonymous, and mean "occurring at the proper time or within an expected time" (“fulfill the contract in a timely fashion”).  Each is used both as an adjective and an adverb.

Timely is pretty common, but how about that word, “timeously” (pronounced /TIME-ussly/)? It’s a Scottish usage and it’s indicated as South African in dictionaries, too.  It shows up in other places in southern Africa too.  For example: “Land issues in Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are said to have a lot of similarities, which need to be addressed timeously,” wrote Irene Hoaës in the New Era newspaper out of Windhoek, Namibia (July 15, 2010). My clumsy Lexis search uncovers hundreds of news references from southern Africa (and plenty from Scotland too).  Note that use of "timeously" is mostly isolated to those nations (an Australian commentator is surprised to see it used1).  The base adjective “timeous” is used too, but more seldom.

Give "timeously" a try—did you really think you had all the adverbs you needed?

Now for my two cents.  I don’t like the use of "timely" as an adverb (“Macduff was from his mother’s womb/ Untimely ripp’d”). Most adverbs are structured as (adj.) + -ly (“happily,” “sheepishly”). “Time” is not an adjective, and “timely” is already the adjective.  Therefore I, if my opinion mattered, would insist “timely” ought to parallel “friendly,” “kingly” and “lovely” as being solely an adjective. I would write "he did it in a timely way" instead of "he did it timely"; or maybe I'd use "timeously" if I was a braver American.

1. Alan Peterson, “Is Timeous a Wrongeous Usage?; Words,” Sydney Morning Herald, April 8, 1989, p. 84 (he finds “wrongous” as well as “righteous” in his big dictionary, too).

12 comments:

  1. I'm afraid that I'm with the Australian journalist on this one. The use of "timeously" is rife in the UK Department of Work and Pensions where I first came across it, and I have never seen it used anywhere else - I actually thought someone had either invented it or that it was an American import. I find it an ungainly expression and for the record in DWP it is pronounced "tim-eeoossly"! Regards, Simon Bagnall.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Timeously" is used in legal documents and contexts in England. It's pronounced 'time-usly', not 'timmy-usly'. Presumably its purpose is to avoid what would otherwise be the correctly-formed but silly "timelily" (i.e. adj. 'timely' + '-ly' to form the adverb).

    ReplyDelete
  3. As a South African lawyer trying to make sense of American legal speak, I wish they would just use "timeously" and that it would not keep coming up with a red line underneath it. "Timeously" makes so much more sense to me- but now at least I know I did not just make up that word, and there is a reason it exists in my vocabulary and not that of the American legal world. For me the pronunciation is more "Tie - me - us - lee".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As a fellow South African it seems a natural part of my vocabulary - we were taught the Queen's English after all ;) For me the pronunciation is also "Tie - me - us - lee". We were taught that the words have slightly different meanings.

      Timeously - in good time (as in completing a task in good time, with time to spare).

      Timley - at the right or an opportune or appropriate time (as in a warning that came at an opportune time, at just the right moment).

      Delete
  4. As a South African teacher writing reports in an international school, my English/American husband has laughed at my use of the word timeously when referring the children completing tasks in good time. Very interesting to read the above.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Ahh! Some sanity at long last. For years I have been frustrated by the appearance of that accusing red line under the word "timeously". After finally eradicating the squiggly red line from all my Windows computers, it has returned with a vengeance as a dotted red line on my Macs, iPad and iPhone.

    Because I have never been sure about the validity of the word, I have spent a lifetime as a bank executive avoiding its use in my official written communication.

    FWIW, I agree with the other people from Southern Africa... In that part of the world the word is always pronounced as "tie-me-us-lee". The alternative pronunciation of "time-us-lee" must be the Scottish pronunciation.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Timely is an adjective, meaning: done or happening at the appropriate time.

    Timeously is an adverb, meaning: in a timely manner.

    English does come from England after all, not from the USA.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "Timmeeussly" is a nonsense. Eny fule kno that.

    ReplyDelete
  8. It's up there with "misscheeveeuss", in the pantheon of rubbish pronunciation.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Similar to the above poster talking about its frequent use in the DWP, it's also rife in report writing within Police Scotland.

    I was told (in jest) that it was a "police word" made up in Police language, which I can see why as it only seems to be used in government documentation or legal writing....

    I naturally would pronounce it as "time-ee-oss-ly" but then I haven't been told how to correctly pronounce it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. PS. I would never actually use "timeously" in my own report writing, but I would use "timeous" regularly.

      eg. "Please ensure submission of said report in a timeous manner."

      Delete
  10. Just came out of a meeting to review a document I'd written. I'm a South African working in a US-based international organization. Review feedback included: "Is timeous and timeously even a word?" I was blown away and had to Google it. Has my English education failed me? Well, I had marvelous English teachers and they certainly did not fail me. From the above comments, I think you'd concur.

    ReplyDelete