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I was wondering if it's ok to refer to the word "appointment" as if it were a person.

For instance: "I am waiting for my next appointment, who is running late."

If not, what are the alternatives?

Thanks!

  • 5
    Not sure of how canonical it is, since it's not defined exactly like this in any dictionary I found, but it's commonly used that way in conversation (US English, at least). It's common for people whose day runs on appointments, such as doctors or sails reps, to refer to the individual by the time of the appointment, e.g. "Is my 3:00 here yet?" – Cristobol Polychronopolis Sep 15 at 20:34
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    It may be interesting to compare and contrast this with the sentence "The ham sandwich and salad at Table 7 is getting impatient.", which is one of the examples used in E.Bender's book "Linguistic Fundamentals for Natural Language Processing: 100 Essentials from Semantics and Pragmatics". – Peteris Sep 15 at 21:06
  • @CristobolPolychronopolis, could you make it clearer what is your comment intended to add to what has already been posted on this page? – jsw29 Sep 15 at 21:40
  • In this day and age of gender multidiversity I think it's probably pretty reasonable to allow anything as a reference for anything! – Caius Jard Sep 16 at 17:10
  • It is certainly possible with the near-synonymous date. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Sep 17 at 7:35
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I've certainly heard appointment used to refer to a person. For example, compare these two samples I found from common usage on the internet. In the first, the literal appointment (or time window) is running late. In the second, I read it as a person for whom the appointment is for:

  • The staff should be updating you periodically if your appointment is running late ... (source)
  • Getting a call that an appointment is running late ... If you are called on the cell phone by someone running late (source)

In the second example, I understand appointment as a form of metonymy standing in for the person who made the appointment (Britannica). For instance, with an "appointment ... running late" or an "appointment ... here," the qualities of running late or being here often make sense in reference to a person. Context tends to affirm that reading, with subsequent pronouns agreeing with the person being referred to. The Corpus of Contemporary American English turns up several results for "appointment is here," and a a few suggest this personal, metonymous meaning:

Also, your appointment is here. Oh, right. Uh... yeah, send her in. (The Gifted, 2019)

Your appointment is here. Send him in. (Kyle XY, 2007)

I hate to ruffle your feathers, Mr. Duck, but your 2:00 a.m. appointment is here. A Mr. Ghost of Christmas Present. (A Looney Tunes Christmas, 2006)

Dr. Crane, your appointment is here. ... Uh... please, send her in. (Fraser, 2003)

So, yes, definitely, appointment can refer to a person.

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    Might be worth mentioning that this is a fairly-common example of metonymy, which itself is relatively common, especially in informal, spoken American English. – minnmass Sep 16 at 15:29
  • Yes. Although still seems most refer to the event How about "My appointment will be here soon". That refers to the person and seems realistic, what do you think? – Michael Durrant Sep 16 at 17:39
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When a question is asked whether a certain word can be used in a certain way, much depends on what criteria are hiding behind can. As TaliesinMerlin has already explained, the word appointment is, in fact, sometimes so used. This usage is, however, limited to certain settings, which are principally those in which the need for brevity overrides other considerations. In the communications between a receptionist and a physician it may thus be an established practice to announce a patient with 'your 3:30 appointment is here' rather than 'Mr. Smith, who has an appointment for 3:30, is here'. Referring to the patient as the appointment is a convenient shorthand, which speeds the things up. Neither the receptionist nor the physician would, however, normally use the word in this way when speaking to the patient; such use is typically reserved for the internal communications among the staff. A patient could, indeed, perceive such use of the word to be mildly disrespectful.

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    Another consideration: using "appointment" rather than the patient's name preserves privacy. – PersonX Sep 15 at 18:41
  • @PersonX, true, but if that were the only concern, the receptionist could say something like 'the gentleman who has an appointment for 3:30 is here'. – jsw29 Sep 15 at 21:38
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    It would probably be more idiomatic to even drop the word "appointment" in that sentence and just say "your 3:30 is here". I've certainly heard that both in media and in real life. – Jörg W Mittag Sep 16 at 7:03
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Appointment is quite polysemous. Cambridge Dictionary lists a common concrete sense where the referent is human:

appointment: someone who is chosen for a job:

  • Some staff believe that Mr King was an unsuitable appointment.

('Appointee' is a less polysemous synonym here.)

However, this sense clearly does not fit with the example sentence. We would need a definition 'a person having an appointment, ie an arrangement to meet or visit someone at a particular time and place [again CED]', and I'm not sure that this sense can be considered standard, not being able to find it in CED, Lexico, AHD, M-W, Collins or Macmillan. So I'd consider the example unacceptable, or at best non-standard and informal (not being picked up on by any of the dictionaries mentioned).

.................

"I am waiting for my next appointment; we seem to be running late" is perhaps hedged most kindly; "I am waiting for my next appointment; five more minutes and I'm putting it down as a no-show" sounds less forgiving.

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This is an example of a kind of metonymy: the substitution of an attribute for the thing meant (e.g., speaking of "the higher-ups" to refer to your boss, your boss's boss, etc.).

It's certainly a well-established rhetorical device, and often used in this particular context (i.e., "appointment" for "person having an appointment to meet me"), but sounds, to my ear, a little dismissive: it reduces the person to something only having significance because of their relationship to me.

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  • I hadn't realized, when I wrote it, that "metonymy" had already been mentioned; I suppose that the only new content is the "dismissive" sound to my (native) ear. – John Sep 16 at 16:56
  • My (small) addition is to say that not only could it be, but it actually is. Over in Math Stackexchange, where I spend most of my time, differently-phrased or nuanced responses are commonplace, and often regarded as valuable. If that's not the case here, I'll just try to shut up. – John Sep 16 at 17:02
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I personally (British English), would find it disrespectful if I overheard other clients referred to in this way.

I suggest, "I am waiting for my next client, who is running late."

or (for a medical professional)

"I am waiting for my next patient, who is running late."

or

"I am waiting for my next interviewee, who is running late."

etc.

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