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I was preparing an application, where the specified deadline was today 12pm. My understanding of 12pm was 12 noon, but I found it a little odd for a deadline to be at 12 noon. So I sent the following email to the staff handling the application just to make sure if my understanding was correct (this was a reply to a previous email from her where she mentioned the deadline):

Dear B,

May I just confirm whether by 12pm you mean 12 noon?

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

A

From B's reply below, it seems that she was a little annoyed:

Hi A

12pm is 12 noon.

12 midnight is 12am.

So 12 lunchtime today please, thanks.

Kind regards

B

I would like to know if there was anything wrong with my question, and how could I have asked it better.

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    This seems more like a question about social skills, not really language. – Barmar Feb 27 '15 at 23:45
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    I don't read her answer as being annoyed, just trying to be really clear. – TessellatingHeckler Feb 27 '15 at 23:57
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    @FumbleFingers - anyone who has set a digital alarm clock for an important event should have learned from personal experience when a.m. and p.m. begin. B might well hold the same opinion of you. – anongoodnurse Feb 28 '15 at 0:09
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about etiquette. – Ellie Kesselman Feb 28 '15 at 0:20
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    All just more reasons for the remaining parts of the world that are still holding out to use 24-hour notations, where it is all crystal clear. 28 February 12:00 is at noon on the last day of (non-leapy) February; 28 February 00:00 is 12 hours before; and 28 February 24:00 is 12 hours after. Simple! – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 28 '15 at 0:51
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B made a technical error, in both her original deadline specification and in her follow-up message to you, to imply that “12pm” has a well-defined meaning. It does not. 12:00 noon is neither ante meridiem (before noon) nor post meridiem (after noon); it is exactly noon, and it should be referred to as such (http://www.npl.co.uk/reference/faqs/is-midnight-12-am-or-12-pm-faq-time).

Likewise, 12:00 midnight is exactly midway between one noon (i.e., meridiem) and the next, so one might argue that it has equal right to be called either am or pm. Midnight is also neither an “am” nor a “pm.” You can remove all ambiguity by referring to it as midnight.

You can usually infer from context whether a speaker means 12n or 12m when she says “12pm,” which is surely why most people continue to do it. But in the case of your deadline, I’m with you: I might also have assumed that a more likely time for a deadline would be midnight.

I think that both your note and B’s response were respectful and polite. You should be glad you asked. Asking saved you and B from missing your schedules. Had her response been different (she could easily have answered in the opposite way, because of the undefined-ness of “12pm”), it might have saved you from mistakenly prioritizing your application over something more urgent.

There are some fun stories on this noon/midnight topic at http://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,,-1752,00.html. Search for the string “3.07” for one that I found particularly intriguing.

  • Interesting. I never even knew there was confusion. Wouldn't take the first article too seriously though; it mentions a time called "24:00", while there clearly is no such time. – Mr Lister Feb 28 '15 at 8:30
  • @MrLister, I suppose if someone asked me to pick him up at 24:01 on the 7th and refused to answer any questions about it, then he shouldn't be surprised when I arrive at one minute past midnight on the morning of the 8th (grin). – Cary Millsap Feb 28 '15 at 18:01
  • Since it doew not exists - while discussing an appointment - "12pm" seems to me just a mistake in writing. So, confusing. – augusto Mar 2 '18 at 6:04
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I agree with @TessellatingHeckler that B is being polite (as well as brief) in her response (she probably has a lot to do).

She says please, thanks, and Kind regards. If she had been less brief, perhaps she would not have sounded brusque to you.

Hi A.

Absolutely! For future reference, 12pm is 12 noon, and 12 midnight is 12am.

So, yes, the form is due by 12 lunchtime today, please.

Thanks, and Kind regards,

B

Imagine how many times she might have answered this question! Yet she is polite. (Had she said "sincerely", it might have been worse.) No harm done on either end.

(For future reference, imagine setting a digital alarm clock for an important event in the morning. A.M. begins at 12:00 at night, and ends with 12:00 noon - just as B pointed out.)

  • I would not have got the impression that she was a little annoyed if she just cared to answer my question with yes or no. Her first two lines (after greetings) seemed unnecessary to me. – adipro Feb 28 '15 at 14:29

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