Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt
You snagged that great job at the hot new tech startup where they play ping pong on scooters. Congratulations! Your title is probably something like “chief dreamer,” “director of awesome,” or something else vague and millennial-friendly. Now, you get an email from the HR director (whose business card reads “VP of Hugs”) which states your paycheck will come biweekly.
Does that mean you’ll get paid twice a week or every other week? With the big stack of cash your CEO just raised, they could probably afford to pay you twice a week, but it’s more likely biweekly here means you’ll get paid twice a month.
Couldn’t your company’s VP of Hugs have also said you’ll get paid “semiweekly?” I’ve always been confused about the meaning and usage of “bi-” and “semi-.” In general, the prefix bi- means two or twice. Think about a bicycle with its two wheels or the bicentennial, which happened in 1976 to celebrate the United States’ 200th birthday. Semi- means half. A semiprofessional basketball player is somewhere halfway between an amateur and a pro. A store’s semiannual sale happens twice per year, or every half a year.
So why all the confusion? Both a biannual meeting and a semiannual meeting occur twice a year, based on how they’re commonly used. I’ve worked for employers who pay bimonthly (twice a month) and others who pay biweekly (every other week). That’s inconsistent, or ambiguous at best.
Although vague job titles are all the rage right now, vague meanings for words that describe how often things reoccur are just confusing. This ambiguity isn’t new, unlike the weird startup company titles. I recommend getting a job description in writing that spells out what exactly your new company’s expectations of you are and specify you want to get paid in U.S. dollars instead of a cryptocurrency your founder invented.
When it comes to how often a meeting happens, try to avoid confusion by saying “twice a week,” “every other week,” or “twice a month.” Even though you sound like an Ivy League summa cum laude when you throw around words like “semimonthly” or “biannually,” you can quickly confuse people, causing them to take extra trips to the VP of Hug’s office (which doubles as a yoga studio semidaily).