The weather outside was frightful, and so was the advisory from the National Weather Service. Not known for their literary prose, these alerts are usually pretty staccato and full of shorthand. So it was a surprise to read this:
“Travel expected to be hazardous during the evening commute and Thursday morning commute … With the heaviest snow falling this evening into the overnight tonight. Near blizzard conditions possible across southeastern portions of Long Island late this evening into the overnight.”
Hmm. So the person who wrote this alert left out some words (note the sentence fragment) but added the unnecessary words “into the” before “overnight.” That also, by the way, changes what is normally an adjective or adverb, “overnight,” into a noun.
“The overnight” is popping up on TV weather forecasts, too. Instead of saying “it’s going to snow tonight and overnight,” more forecasters are saying “it’s going to snow tonight and through the overnight.”
“The overnight” might be an Eastern weather affectation, though. Here’s a severe weather alert from Montana: “Rain early in the evening … then rain with snow likely in the late evening and overnight.” And one from Chicago: “Northeast winds of 25 to 40 mph with stronger gusts will result in blizzard conditions developing Tuesday evening and continuing through the overnight hours.”
“Overnights” extend beyond weather. The travel industry has been using “overnight” as a noun for years, in measuring how popular a destination is: “Tourist overnights decreased 4.5 percent to nearly 1.96 million through November.”
“Overnight” is used as a verb, too: those “tourist overnights” might be spent on a ship that “overnights” in a port.
To be fair, some dictionaries recognize the noun “overnight” as legitimate, but none give examples with the article “the.” And English is certainly not consistent: One would say “it is going to snow over the evening,” but not “it is going to snow over the noon.”
We, of course, have had a similar noun for many years: “overnighter.” Originally a small piece of luggage one would take to stay somewhere “overnight,” it is more commonly used now to mean a sleepover, as in “Nikki and Bo and having an overnighter next week.”
Could all of this “overnighting” stem from a 2006 book, The Overnight, described as “A gripping horror extravaganza”? Many would argue that using “the overnight” in another Snowmageddon forecast would certainly qualify.Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl. Tags: adjective, Language Corner, Merrill Perlman, noun, overnight