by on August 12, 2009 at 2:21 pm in Science | Permalink

Let's say a meeting, originally scheduled for Wednesday, has been moved forward two days. What is the new day of the meeting?

That's a question from Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing.  The answer says a lot about how you implicitly think about time.

If you think it's Friday, you imagine time as something you move through. If you think it's Monday, you think of time as something that passes by you.

According to this research, a bit sketchy it seems to me, Friday people tend to be angrier.  FYI, I'm a Monday person (it took me some time to see the question could have another answer!).

1 Careless August 12, 2009 at 2:29 pm

I’m pretty certain that Monday would be the common use of the language, so this seems like an odd claim. It’s not an interpretation after you’ve been told what something means.

2 Sarah S August 12, 2009 at 2:31 pm

I had to read every single comment at BoingBoing before I could understand how anyone could say “Monday.”

3 Sarah S August 12, 2009 at 2:34 pm


Apparently, they mean the Monday before the Wednesday upon which the meeting was originally scheduled. Not the Monday following the Friday upon which you and I think the meeting is now scheduled.

The question, in other words, is about what it means to move something “forward” in time.

I read it as being a question about how one counts “two days later.”

4 jeff August 12, 2009 at 2:40 pm

fusion was on the right track here. If you have a job where you have meetings… meeting are “pushed back” constantly, meaning at a later date/time. Very rarely is a scheduled meeting re-scheduled to be earlier, but if one ever was then yes I’d consider this moving the meeting “forward”. Like Alex I had trouble envisioning any answer but Monday.

5 PaulNoonan August 12, 2009 at 2:43 pm

I am in the Friday camp, and could not originally understand how Monday could be correct.

6 Andrew August 12, 2009 at 2:44 pm

How does this correlate to life expectancy?

7 Time Tripper August 12, 2009 at 2:51 pm

What happens if the meeting also changes location crossing the date line?

8 tg August 12, 2009 at 3:04 pm

I intuitively thought Monday.

Now the corresponding Monday image:

I sit at the top of an upward moving escalator, which is time. The meeting is on the fifth step and slowly getting closer to me. Moving it forward moves it up to the seventh step, closer still.

The Friday image?

Perhaps time is a hallway…you walk towards the meeting, anthropomorphised, it has its back to you. Moving it forward moves it away from you.

9 ZBicyclist August 12, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Obviously Monday, unless it’s a bimonthly meeting, in which case who knows.

10 Careless August 12, 2009 at 3:23 pm

I’m confused by these responses. Am I the only one who has heard “move the ___ up/forward” hundreds or thousands of times in his life, always meaning the same thing?

11 D. Watson August 12, 2009 at 3:35 pm

On only reading the set-up sentence, I answered, “Could you please clarify? I think it’s Monday but I can see how someone might think it was Friday and I don’t know what type you are.” So I can’t see how someone can’t see both. “We hold [our perspective] to be self-evident” and all that.

12 vm August 12, 2009 at 3:41 pm

I guess I am somewhat unusual in my reaction was fairly ambivalent– it was something like, “Friday I guess…oh wait maybe they mean Monday. Not really sure.” The emotional attachment to one or the other seems sort of odd, to me.

13 u. saldin August 12, 2009 at 3:43 pm

it took me some time to see the question could have another answer!

Really? Before I even finished the sentence I was thinking, “Well, what does he mean by ‘forward’?”.

14 Kevin Dick August 12, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Well, this just goes to show you should never use the term “move forward” when rescheduling a meeting 🙂

Perhaps both the differing interpretations and the differences in anger can be explained by Bayesian priors. People who are always getting meetings delayed naturally assume that “move forward” means a delay because that’s the most likely event in their experience. Moreover, meeting delays are pretty irritating so this experience also makes them angrier.

15 Rich August 12, 2009 at 3:54 pm

This phrasing has stumped me in the past, actually… when I think of “time” I think of a calendar, and as an English speaker I read left to right… so when I hear someone talk about “moving a date forward” I imagine it traveling from left to right on the calendar. Likewise, moving a meeting “back” would be a right-to-left move. The usual convention is of course the opposite.

Computer programmers, back in the assembly language days, used to have a similar conflict when talking about moving something “up” in memory. Moving “up” means moving to a higher address… which, in most printed memory maps, means moving it toward the *bottom* of the page. I’ve seen memory maps with the highest address (0xFFFFFF, say) at the top of the page, just to clarify what “up” means.

16 hkc August 12, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Really, I’ve never heard someone say that the meeting has been “moved forward.” Its either been “moved up” or “pushed back”.

17 James B. August 12, 2009 at 4:01 pm

Sid: Well I’m going down to visit my sister in Virginia next Wednesday, for a week, so I can’t park it.

Jerry: This Wednesday?

Sid: No, next Wednesday, week after this Wednesday.

Jerry: But the Wednesday two days from now is the next Wednesday.

Sid: If I meant this Wednesday, I would have said this Wednesday. It’s the week after this Wednesday.

18 Caxim August 12, 2009 at 4:08 pm

What is the answer if the meeting has been moved forward 2 days?
What is the answer if the meeting has been moved forward 1 day?
What is the answer if the meeting has been moved forward 0 day?
I expect people who originally thought “Moday” answer me, lol.

19 Careless August 12, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Really, I’ve never heard someone say that the meeting has been “moved forward.” Its either been “moved up” or “pushed back”.

I’ve been wondering about that, if my mind just associated “moved up” and “pushed back” and rejected “moved forward” as having the same meaning as “moved back”.

“moved the launch forward” is about 1/10 as common on google as “moved up the launch” and replace “launch” with “meeting” it’s about 1% as common. Also interesting to see that people virtually always put “forward” at the end of the sentence while “up” is in the middle”. Despite the fact that they’re both being used as adverbs, people have a strong tendency to treat the “up” as a preposition, I guess.

20 Andrew August 12, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Is the meeting bi-weekly or semi-weekly?

21 rb August 12, 2009 at 4:39 pm

maybe it was already said somewhere, but I went to Friday, given that today is Wednesday. When else could it be?

22 8 August 12, 2009 at 4:44 pm

“moved up”

Friday people are angrier because
a) we don’t like meetings on Friday
b) we missed the Monday meeting
c) our boss has communication problems.

23 Web Hosting Reviews August 12, 2009 at 4:48 pm

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24 Rama August 12, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Why not use the logical word ” prepone” instead of moving forward ?


25 babar August 12, 2009 at 5:46 pm

thanks. i’ve moved my angry outburst, originally scheduled for tomorrow, forward by two days.

26 Yancey Ward August 12, 2009 at 6:12 pm

If I were a Friday person, I would miss the meeting and be much happier.

Now, for the really contentious question- if it is said that Monday’s meeting is being rescheduled to next Friday, when is the meeting?

27 Rob S. August 12, 2009 at 6:24 pm

For all the people saying Friday, I’d be really interested in knowing if you’ve ever heard that phrase actually used. I’ve heard it when it’s meant Monday, and used it when it’s meant Monday; the idea that there could be some confusion in the matter has never come up (I don’t remember any unlikely absences either, no ;)).

28 Christopher John Brennan August 12, 2009 at 6:53 pm


I immediately understood moving the meeting “forward” two days to mean moving it from Wednesday to Monday–I contrast it to pushing it “back” two days to Friday–and only after reading the comments could I understand how people could see the meeting example any other way.

However, then I realized that I consider myself to be (relentlessly) moving “forward” in time one day at a time–only a time traveler could go “back” in time–so it will take me, personally, two days to move “forward” in time from Wednesday to Friday.

Of course, as Ford Prefect said, “Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so.”

29 Timothy Ryan August 12, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Rather than perception of time, I wonder if this could speak to another psychological characteristic. My automatic reaction was Monday, but I wonder if that’s because I am a bit worrisome and neurotic. I automatically took “forward” to mean closer to now (less time to prepare.) I wonder if I would have thought something different if, rather than a meeting, it had been a trip to the beach.

30 dieter August 12, 2009 at 8:14 pm

I am so Friday, I assumed that if anything, the Monday option could only refer to the Monday in the following workweek. (with two work days in between)

Of course we Friday people are angry. Here we are, trying to actively live our lives, moving forward and all of these lazy layabout Monday people keep clogging up the time stream.

31 Let them eat Thomas Paine August 12, 2009 at 8:23 pm

I was at the beach this past weekend with some friends and we were playing Bocce Ball. Sometimes the yellow ball would be difficult to see in contrast with the sand and when such an occurrence took place, I would run and tell them where the last ball thrown lay. If the ball was beyond the yellow ball I would say, “two feet in front of the the yellow ball.” I meant “in front of” to mean “beyond” but they all assumed that it meant closer to them than the yellow ball. I guess I was envisioning the two balls as both moving away from us and, therefore, “beyond” meant “in front of.” Long story short they would get pissed off when their shot would end up four feet beyond the yellow ball. Funny how the same phrase can be mutually understood lexically; yet, when applied in context beget an entirely opposite understanding of the situation.

Regarding the Monday/Friday debate: I was definitely in the Friday camp and couldn’t understand how anyone could think it was Monday. I bet my friends were Monday-ers and that makes me angry.

32 michael webster August 12, 2009 at 8:49 pm

This was fun.

I jumped to “Friday” as the answer, then actually read, instead of skimming, the instructions — waited and came with “Monday”.

No idea what any of this means, but fun anyways!

33 Salamander August 12, 2009 at 10:07 pm

I immediately thought “Friday!” which apparently makes me angry.

Thinking about it more, I’ve never heard anyone say “we’re moving this meeting forward.” It’s always “we’re moving the marketing meeting up to Monday” if it’s going to be sooner, or “We’re postponing / pushing back the marketing meeting til Friday” if it’s going to be later.

And everyone knows not to schedule a meeting on Friday; no one will come to it!

34 Kris August 12, 2009 at 11:29 pm

I will be honest and say that I have not idea how anyone could interpret “move forward” as delaying a meeting by two days. It has to be Monday.

35 Cyrus August 12, 2009 at 11:47 pm

“Pushed back” doesn’t mean into the future because of the back, but because of the push. Push is clearly away from me.

36 Doug August 12, 2009 at 11:56 pm

Also, physically on the calendar, we read from left to right and top to bottom, so a meeting moving from wednesday to friday is literally moving forward, while a meeting moving from wednesday to monday is literally moving backward.

37 Careless August 13, 2009 at 12:01 am

Also, physically on the calendar, we read from left to right and top to bottom, so a meeting moving from wednesday to friday is literally moving forward, while a meeting moving from wednesday to monday is literally moving backward.

Given that virtually everyone in America (and Canada, from what I can tell) thinks that moving a meeting back means postponing it, you, like Jim, are saying that you think moving a meeting back is synonymous with moving a meeting forward

38 Careless August 13, 2009 at 12:05 am

How does such research have any value, other than for entertainment? Any ideas?

This sort of thing can give insight into how people think. However, in this case it’s combined a common figure of speech with a common understanding of word meanings that results in inconsistent results, which makes it a worthless test of either “how much time have you spent talking/reading about meetings” or “how far are you willing to distance your logic from the facts that you know?”

39 Jared August 13, 2009 at 12:43 am

So my first thought was “this person needs to be clearer.”

40 scrilla_gorilla August 13, 2009 at 2:32 am

Based on how this type of terminology is commonly used, I immediately thought Monday. I’m not sure how people could think it was Friday. If it was “pushed back” it would be Friday, so forward is the clear opposite. How can something be “pushed back” and “moved forward” in the same direction?

41 dieter August 13, 2009 at 5:52 am

How can something be “pushed back” and “moved forward” in the same direction?

to push = forward = away from me

“push back” is unambiguous for both Friday and Monday people.
“move forward” isn’t, since “to move” doesn’t specify which direction.

“back” is furthermore both a noun and an adverb. The back (noun) is in the distant. If somebody from the future moves back(wards) (adverb) in time, he is coming towards me.

The opposite of “push back” would be “pull in front”, which is unambiguous for Friday and Monday people as well.

The opposite of “move forward” is “move backward”. Both are equally ambiguous.

42 aab August 13, 2009 at 11:10 am

Yeah, this is an language problem, not some revealing test of personality types or how one envisions the march of time.

It’s just not clear what is meant: ‘Forward = sooner’? Or ‘Forward = Left to right on a weekly or monthly calendar’?

43 Rich August 13, 2009 at 11:53 am

“Intuitively back cannot equal forward.”

Richard Lederer analyzes problems like this… for example he notes that a “fat chance” and a “slim chance” both mean the same thing.

44 Louise August 13, 2009 at 2:06 pm

I’m in the Friday camp, and more likely to be angry.

If I believe it is Friday and it is really Monday, then I will miss the meeting and probably be given extra work. This makes me mad.

If you believe it is Monday and it is really Friday, then you will walk into an empty meeting room, realize what happened, have a chance to clarify the date and time with the meeting convener, and be happy to now have a chance to better prepare.

Or, you’ll possibly be really angry that you wasted time getting to a non-existent meeting and now have to anticipate another useless time suck in your schedule on Friday.

I need to work on my anger issues, but my therapist just moved our session back two days.

45 Luiz Felipe August 13, 2009 at 5:27 pm

Do those of us that thought “Saturday” simply work too much?

46 Bayesian August 13, 2009 at 5:32 pm

In the UK I think we’d mostly say ‘the meeting has been brought forward’ which more explicitly gives the notion of it coming toward you, hence Monday—it couldn’t be Friday.

47 Craig August 15, 2009 at 7:32 pm

I’m a Friday guy. I see “pushed back” as meaning further from now because pushing always makes things move away. So if someone said “We used to think Jesus was born 30BC but it was pushed back.” then I would assume something like 40BC.

Imagining all events in time moving instead of yourself moving through time is similar to navigating by rotating your mental map when you turn instead of rotating an arrow representing yourself on a static north-is-up map. Both involve a choice between two coordinate systems: an egocentric one, and one in which less changes over time. I find that the latter type of people navigate better than the former, so I postulate that Friday people are better at calendrical calculation. I also postulate that being a Friday person correlates positively with being a “rotate the arrow not the map” person.

48 asics shoes August 23, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Going forward in time is moving into the future, and moving a meeting forward is bringing it closer to the present, or backwards in time.

49 ugg shoes September 22, 2010 at 1:21 pm

It’s pretty good.

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