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On multiple commercial domestic flights, I've heard a flight attendant make an announcement just before final descent back to the ground that "the seat belt sign will remain illuminated for the duration of the flight."

This strikes me as an obvious mistake, where clearly "remainder" is intended. Is there an argument for using "duration" in this instance, despite much of the flight having already been spent with the seat belt sign dark?

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closed as not constructive by FumbleFingers, Kristina Lopez, MετάEd, TimLymington, choster Jun 12 '13 at 18:52

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I think this looks like a peeve. –  FumbleFingers Jun 10 '13 at 21:46
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Duration means "duration". There is nothing about the word that says whether the entirety of it is in the future or in the past, or if you're in the middle of it. Plus she's already has a remain in there. Do you really suggest she said the lights would remain illuminated for the remainder of the flight? –  RegDwigнt Jun 10 '13 at 22:07
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The duration is an idiom, and includes the remaining duration by convention. –  John Lawler Jun 10 '13 at 22:08
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@FumbleFingers I'm taking the upshot of your statement as "this question is not worthy of asking or answering", but I'm wondering if you might go into a little more detail about why that is. Before reading the responses, I firmly believed that "duration" could never refer to a part of a larger span of time without that smaller part being specified. Is your objection just that if one is already aware of the nuance, this seems like someone making a quibbling point rather than an earnest inquiry? –  Tyler James Young Jun 10 '13 at 22:44
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...to a first approximation, words don't have "meanings" - meaning is an attribute of usages in context. –  FumbleFingers Jun 10 '13 at 23:04

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Although from the definition of duration you would appear to be correct:-

  1. Continuance or persistence in time.
  2. A period of existence or persistence: sat quietly through the duration of the speech.
  3. The number of years required to receive the present value of future payments, both of interest and principle, of a bond, often used as an indicator of a bond's price volatility resulting from changes in interest rates.

the word often appears in the phrase for the duration of the war (here and here), by which is strictly meant the whole of the war. But this usage refers to a state of affairs that wasn't the case at the start of the war, and so means the remainder.

For instance, someone conscripted into the army for the duration of the war would seldom have been conscripted at the start of the war.

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The definition I looked at specified that this sense was restricted to uses without "of" after "duration", but I suppose this makes sense. –  Tyler James Young Jun 10 '13 at 22:46

If the flight attendant were to say "the seatbelt sign will NOW remain on for the duration of the flight" it would make more sense in the context of the remainder. Remainder is not an attractive word unless referring to something mathematical. In Britain they just say "the sign will now be illuminated for the rest of the flight."

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