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I've just read my first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. In it, I have found several instances of the word "directly" being used in a way I am not familiar with. It appears to have the meaning "when" or "right after" or "as soon as":

"Directly the cards were dealt I kicked myself."

Directly Bond and Leiter had left to walk over to the hotel, she had telephoned.

Directly the boot was shut, the third man [...] climbed in beside him [...].

Directly they sat down, he apologized gaily for having startled her at the telephone booth [...].


Is this an obsolete used of the word? Is this only British English? I have read quite a lot of books from many different time periods, but I've never stumbled across this before - do other authors besides Fleming use "directly" in this way?

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As can be seen from Ham and Bacon's examples, it's [more?] common to follow "directly" in this sense with the word "after". I think omitting "after" is really just a stylistic device (used by Fleming more than most, perhaps). It sounds slightly "dated" to me, but definitely not "obsolete". –  FumbleFingers Jun 28 '11 at 12:26

6 Answers 6

up vote 6 down vote accepted

As reported by the NOAD, using directly to mean "as soon as" is British English usage.
Directly was once used to mean "in a little while, soon"; this use was common to American and British English.

She fell asleep directly she got into bed.
I'll be back directly.

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It is still used sometimes to mean "soon" or "quickly" in present-day British English; J.K. Rowling used it in the HP novels (Book 3, Snape, in reference to a goblet of what turns out to be Wolfsbane potion: "You should drink that directly, Lupin"). –  KeithS Jun 28 '11 at 14:20
In Appalachain hillbilly dialect, it is often used to mean "soon" or "in just a moment". "I'll be there d'rectly" –  TecBrat Aug 4 '12 at 21:37

This usage isn't (quite) obsolete, in Britain at least, but is relatively formal and associated with a 20th century RP mode of speech and writing, which tallies with the Fleming source. Related to your examples is its use to mean 'in a short time', as in 'I'll be with you directly,' and the nice Cornish word dreckly.

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Dictionary. com doesn't list it as "obsolete":

at once; without delay; immediately: Do that directly.

I myself have used it, and heres a title that use "directly" posted on the 6th of June, 2011:

Frequent crashes directly after startup or after matching

Also this one:

Top 10 Security Settings to make directly after Installing Active Directory


There's no difference between the OP's examples and mine's, except for the fact that the OP's example includes the inverting of sentences i.e. ""Directly the cards were dealt I kicked myself."

This is not an obsolete or unusual way of using "directly", just that the order of the letters have been switched. Try that on my examples:

Directly after startup or after matching, frequent crashes occur.

So, basically, there's nothing unusual about using "directly" this way, it's just a different sentence structure.

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I probably was being unclear. I know that "directly" itself is not obsolete, but I have only ever seen it used in the way you are showing in your examples. Try replacing "directly" with "as soon as" in my examples and in yours, and you'll see the difference. I don't know the grammatical term for what "directly" is in these two contexts. –  Tim Pietzcker Jun 28 '11 at 7:21
@Tim: It is used as a conjunction (instead of an adverb). –  Cerberus Jun 28 '11 at 8:26
note that your examples all contain the phrase "directly after", while none of the original ones do. –  Joachim Sauer Jun 28 '11 at 9:04

Growing up I was more used to "directly" being used to mean at some indeterminate time in the future. I understand now that the correct dictionary meaning is "as soon as" or "at once", but my Mother and some other adults I used to know used it to to slow down an expectation (more in line with the definition above of "soon, in a little while"). Interesting how a word can be turned around to mean almost the exact opposite of what the actual definition is.

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I live in Texas and I remember my great-grandmother, born in 1907, regularly used it to mean "in a little while". Anytime she was leaving, "I'll be back directly" (pronounced "dreckly"). Anytime she was coming, "I'll see you directly" (again, "dreckly").

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Uncle from Oklahoma always used it to mean "in a little while": e.g.,

We will go camping directly.

I think he brought it back from WW2.

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