There’s never a day – or at best a week – that goes by in the modern working world where you don’t have to deal with meetings.  Recurring or one-off, they are as much part of the water we swim in as is email.

Even retirement has meetings.  Damn.

With meetings comes rescheduling.  Now a critical question arises: What just happened to a meeting that someone “moved up?”  How about “moved back” or “moved forward”?  Can you tell?  Does the answer remain the same from day to day or even minute to minute?  If you know the answer, do all your peers agree?  Ask around.

We can talk about how we move through three dimensions of space pretty easily.  Our vocabulary of movement was built for it.  “Forward”, “back” and “up” all have plain meanings – at least relative to the speaker.  Once we talk about moving through time, though, we want to use different words.  “Earlier”, “later”, and “sooner”.  “Before” and “after”.   When words for relative positions in three dimensions are being used in reference to the fourth, trouble begins.  To me, the hardest one to comprehend is “back”.

I think a fundamental switch happens to the meaning of “moved the meeting back” when you consider two ways of visualizing our movement through time.  (We’re all time-travelers, proceeding into the future at the rate of one second per second.)  Think: do you see yourself as striding a path toward the future?  Or do you stay put, while the time frame moves toward you and then past?  

If you yourself are moving through “stationary” time, then a meeting that moves “back” recedes into a more distant future.  But if you stay put as the future comes at you and the past recedes behind you, then a meeting that moves “back” reaches you more quickly.

There’s a hidden problem with “move the meeting back”.  Once exposed, it offers a way to express the idea much more clearly: the verb “move” is as generic as can be, and does not convey enough information.  How much clearer is: “I pushed the meeting back.”  Because pushing is always moving something away from the speaker, now the meaning is unambiguous.