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"the other day" is a pretty standard and understood phrase. It usually translates to "on a recent day". So you could say "I was talking to Rachel the other day..." which would mean "I was talking to Rachel on a recent day...".

It's been pointed out to me that I will often use the phrase "the other week" and this comment is usually followed by a judgement that that is not a phrase that is used.

My question is, what are valid time-periods that can fill in the blank in the phrase "the other _"?

Some [non-exhaustive] samples:

  • the other second
  • the other minute
  • the other hour
  • the other day
  • the other week
  • the other month
  • the other year
  • the other decade
  • the other century

To me, "day" and "week" sound fine, "month" and "year" are acceptable but sound a little funny, and the rest sound completely weird.

P.S.

A related question to consider that might help elucidate why some of these sound more natural than others and whether substitutes are acceptable: What are the limits of the multiplier "the other"? For example, how many days into the past can I safely refer to as "the other day"? Less than a week ago? Less than a month ago? Less than a year ago?

I'd venture to say that the phrase has a human-centered nature about it -- even if you're talking about a non-human ("the volcano erupted the other day") -- which somehow limits the bounds to being less than the lifetime of a human being. But this is purely a guess.

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Yuo can only have the other day and the other night. The others are not used. –  tchrist Aug 16 '13 at 14:25
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to me too, day and week sounds good! –  rps Aug 16 '13 at 14:44
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@tchrist I assume you mean "... in AmE"? The other week is used and is perfectly acceptable in British English. The other month is also used occasionally and would be acceptable to me. –  TrevorD Aug 16 '13 at 14:47
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"the other day" sounds correct because it's idiomatic. I agree with @tchrist that it would be best to avoid the others you list, and use something like "a couple months ago" or "a few years back" instead, at least in AmE. –  J.R. Aug 16 '13 at 14:54
    
I agree with rps and Trevor that week is also acceptable, though not as common as day, of course. I wouldn’t bat an eyelash over ‘the other week’. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 16 '13 at 15:01
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3 Answers

Looking at the Google NGram, of your list the other day is the only one of your list of phrases that appears at all, which is what I expected from my own recollection.

Putting in the terms from Ste's list here, I found that the other evening, the other afternoon, the other night and the other morning appear quite frequently, and the other lunchtime appears but very rarely.

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The point of the phrase is that it's deliberately vague for an event which you either can't remember or don't care exactly when it happened. It's therefore not used with second/minute/hour because these are in the recent past and you presumably can remember what you were doing.

In Britain you commonly hear the other week (best not to put too much faith in Google - just because something doesn't appear in ngrams doesn't mean it's not commonly used).

As for time scale, the choice would indicate roughly how long ago something happened. Other day would be used for anything up to a week, and other week for anything longer, but it's not a hard and fast rule. The vagueness of the phrase is because the actual timing is irrelevant.

The other month is not heard often, I would tend to say a couple of / a few monthe ago.

I might say the other year if, eg, talking about a holiday and I couldn't remember exactly when I went. (Better that than going into a mind-numbing meander: "We went there in 2005. No, was it 2006? No it must have been before that, that was the year I broke my leg. But we didn't have that car in 2005. Was it 2004? Was that the year your mother came with us?")

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There are many people I know who's stories are ruined because they spend an awful lot of time going through the meander you mention at the end. For that example, though, I might still stick with your "a couple/few years ago" since "the other year" is definitely a little unnatural to my ear. (Though much more natural than the sub-circadian units). –  Ariel Allon Aug 19 '13 at 15:03
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In my experience (British English) the following are acceptable and commonplace:

  • day
  • morning
  • afternoon
  • lunchtime
  • evening
  • night
  • week
  • month

  • (and other synonyms of the same)

I expect that there may be some debate around week and month but it would not be unnatural to hear:

Why, it was just the other week that I spoke to him.

or

I'd heard the other month about the plans for the new stadium.

Admittedly, the longer the time frame in question, the less frequent it is used but I am confident enough to advise that the usage here is acceptable.

I think "the other year" is pushing it a bit far and, indeed, I am struggling to think of a context where it doesn't sound a tad odd.

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Of your list, lunchtime, week, and month all sound very strange. –  tchrist Aug 16 '13 at 15:25
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@tchrist - Here in the UK, week and month sound fine. I am starting to dislike lunchtime though. –  Ste Aug 16 '13 at 15:30
    
The other day at lunchtime is much more natural. The other week seems fine to me, but I'm not sure about the other month. –  p.s.w.g Aug 16 '13 at 15:32
    
@p.s.w.g - I agree about lunchtime. I need to leave it in the list for posterity now, though! "It was just the other month" translates fine to "it was a month recently" to me. –  Ste Aug 16 '13 at 15:34
    
@Ste "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so." –  Ariel Allon Aug 16 '13 at 18:33
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