January 4, 2010

I’ve had something on my mind recently and it can’t seem to go away. I’ve spoken to some people about it and the results differ from person to person. I’m trying to make the best sense of this as I can, but somehow it eludes me. Here it is: what does ASAP actually mean?

Okay, sure, people will say it means, I need this paper immediately! And that is reasonable, sure. I don’t disagree with that. But Where in APAP (As Soon As Possible) is the immediacy stressed? This is an honest question, folks. I just don’t see it.

If I were to do something for a professor and they tell me, Do this as good as you possibly can, what does that mean? It means that, to the absolute best of your ability, you should perform the said task. How do we know that? Because the sentence states it should be done as good as I can. That, to me, means that that statement is subjective and limited to the hearer’s abilities. So if I were to do something as best as I possibly can will almost certainly be different than someone else’s “as best as you can.”

So, what’s different about As Soon As Possible? As far as I see it, nothing. It’s still limited to the hearer’s abilities. To the hearer, it means they should take into consideration matters such as their current schedule. If their schedule permits them to finish the ASAP request immediately, then immediately it is. If not, then the ASAP request will wait until it’s possible (after all, the request is essentially, Do X for me at your earliest convenience). If my earliest possible time available is not until three days from the request, then I’m sorry, the request will have to wait three days. Again, there’s nothing in the request that states any immediacy whatsoever.

The argument some people give is that it’s pragmatic. We just know that ASAP means Do X for me right this instant. Then there are certain requests like, Get in my office, ASAP! That request, usually in an angry tone, stresses immediacy not in its structure, but tone. Moreover, I think it’s used in correctly. The person requesting should say, Get in my office immediately! if they want to stress importance or immediacy. So I don’t think it’s as much pragmatic as much as it is incorrect usage of ASAP.