Evenin’ All


Many of yesterday’s British papers (e.g. here, here, here, here and here) reported on Warwickshire Police’s handbook “Policing Our Communities”, with headlines that were critical of the Political Correctness inferred from statements such as “Don’t assume those words for the time of day, such as afternoon and evening, have the same meaning [in other languages as they do in English]”. They go on from there to assume that this prevents any Warwickshire police officer from saying “Evenin’ all” in the way that the character George Dixon did in the long-running BBC TV series “Dixon of Dock Green” (the articles all had a picture of Jack Warner, the actor who played George Dixon).

All linguists know that the day is divided up differently by different languages – I have been wished “Bon soir” in French at 1 p.m., and Spanish has no separate word to distinguish “afternoon” from “evening”, using tarde for both. Even within English, I doubt if everybody agrees on when the afternoon turns into the evening – certainly from summer to winter the time will vary. I’m writing this at 5 p.m. and the sky has a slight blueness in the west, but otherwise it is now night. I think I would call this “evening”. But in summer, I might well consider this to be “late afternoon”, with “evening” starting considerably later. By 8 p.m. today, it will definitely be “night”, but again, in summer, that will be just as definitely “evening”.

I think the instruction in the Warwickshire handbook is to remind officers that they need to be precise about times when taking evidence or asking questions, and not to rely on subjective judgments. Other items in the handbook may be ridiculously over the top, but this one may have some sense in it.

I couldn’t find articles from the Times, Guardian or Independent – probably the three most serious of our national dailies. Does this mean they quite sensibly didn’t cover it, or have I just missed them?


  1. The point might be that when you’re trying to speak another language, you can’t just cobble together “good” + (time of day) and expect it to be a greeting all the time. Although it is nice to hear that somewhere the police are addressing people with ‘good morning’ and ‘good evening…”

    Your point about time-of-day labels is interesting. When I was a high school Spanish teacher, I used to tell my students to base their greetings on whether or not a meal has happened, rather than what the clock says. This annoyed them.

  2. In the Southern U.S., Good evening originally was the applicable greeting any time after noon. This may still be true in rural parts.

    It’s interesting that in English Good night cannot be a greeting, only a parting, and that no greeting is clearly applicable between midnight and, say, 6 A.M.

  3. Maybe we should all adopt the Aussie: G’day

  4. Am I right in thinking that “bonsoir” is used at all times of day in (parts of?) Francophone Africa?

    @John Cowan It’s also interesting that all of these “good…” forms are occasionally used (or at least were once) when parting.

    Good morning!

  5. I was in Athens (Greece) just over a week ago, and exactly this topic arose. We were dining in an Constantinopolitan restaurant in central Athens when my host (a native Athenian) asked whether I would describe the current time of day as “late afternoon”. I said “no”, and explained that for me, “late afternoon” suggests somewhere around 17:30. Charalambos responded that for him (and presumably for many/most Athenians), “late afternoon” suggested around 19:30 (which I would call “early evening”), and Charalambos went on to explain that even “noon” in Athenian usage actually refers to around 15:00.

  6. I couldn’t find articles from the Times, Guardian or Independent – probably the three most serious of our national dailies

    There is only one serious national daily newspaper in the UK: The Financial Times.

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