Etymology Usage

See you later, educator

Q: I’m an American educator in Taiwan. I recently made a follow-up appointment with a Taiwanese doctor and he replied, “See you two weeks later.” Would this example of Chinglish (Mandarin grammar in an English sentence) be considered incorrect or merely odd in standard English?

A: Your doctor’s use of “later” isn’t idiomatic English. Although we can find many examples of it in Google searches, most of them seem to be from non-native speakers, especially Chinese.

A native English speaker would say “See you in two weeks” or “See you two weeks from now.”

Although the adjective “late” is very old, first appearing in Anglo-Saxon days, the adjective and adverb “later” didn’t show up until the 16th century.

There are several idiomatic ways to use “later” in English, some considered standard English and others informal or slang.

As an adjective, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it can mean “more late; coming at a longer interval after the usual or proper time; further advanced in a period; more recent.”

Here’s an example from Milton’s poem “Il Penseroso,” published in 1645: “Or what (though rare) of later age, / Ennobled hath the Buskind stage.” (In ancient Greece, tragic actors wore boots called buskins.)

The adjective can also describe the works of a creative artist, as the British composer Leonard Constant Lambert uses it in his book Music Ho! (1934): “This lack of rapport between the tune and harmony is particularly noticeable in some of the later works of Bartók.”

As an adverb, it can mean “at a later time or period.” Here’s an example from Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667): “Both to destroy, or unimmortal make / All kinds, and for destruction to mature / Sooner or later, which th’ Almightie seeing.”

The adverb “later” (and the adverbial phrase “later on”) can also mean “subsequently,” as in Augustine Birrell’s essay collection Obiter Dicta (1887): “Later on music was dragged into the fray.”

“Later” is also used as an adverb in the expression “I’ll see you later,” a usage described as “U.S. slang” in the OED and “informal” in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.).

Finally, according to The Encyclopedia of Jazz (1955), by Leonard Feather, “later” can be used by itself as a “parting phrase, short for ‘I’ll see you later.’ ”

That’s the story. And with that, we’ll see you tomorrow.

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