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  • This reminds me of an incident in Laurie Lee’s lovely memoir of a Gloucestershire childhood, Cider with Rosie. When young Laurie starts school the teacher tells him to ‘sit here for the present’. So he sits there dutifully, waiting for a present that never materialises.

  • You’re obviously right (as usual) about the context removing ambiguity but as a native British speaker who learnt English in the 1930s, I cannot recall ever using ‘presently’ to mean ‘currently’. I have a sense of it being something an Americanism. It is also used by an Irish friend. The OED bears this out:
    “Apparently avoided in literary use between the 17th and 20th centuries, but in regular use in most English dialects and by Scottish writers; revived in the 20th cent. in the U.S., subsequently in Britain and elsewhere. Regarded by some usage writers, esp. after the mid 20th cent., as erroneous or ambiguous.”

  • Yes, Beverley: the use of presently to mean ‘at present’ rose and fell in favour in different domains over the centuries. But as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage notes, it has been ‘in more or less continuous standard use since 1485’. Though it may be proportionately more popular in US English, it did not escape criticism there; however, the American Heritage Dictionary notes that resistance to the usage ‘appears to be waning’.