先 Past and Future?

Back in level 4, I came across 先(さき)as a vocabulary word. Wanikani’s primary definition is “previous.”
https://www.wanikani.com/vocabulary/先
Given the use of the kanji in compound words like 先月(せんげつ)that makes sense. However, Jisho lists “first; before; ahead (of)​” and “future” before “previous”
https://jisho.org/search/先
and the first definition on weblio is “future”
https://ejje.weblio.jp/content/先

Normally, when a word in Japanese means two opposite things, the meanings depend on whether it is used in a positive or negative sentence. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. I am wondering when this word means “previous” and when it means “future”.

I had always assumed it pretty much always always meant “previous” until I looked at the lyrics to the Official髭男dism song イエスタデイ. The video is here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuMqFknYHBs
and if you turn them on, it has Japanese and English subtitles. The lyrics alone are at
https://genius.com/Officialdism-yesterday-lyrics
A google search can yield Google’s translation of the lyrics, which is different form the video.

In the reprise of the chorus, it seemed like “遥か先へ進め” should mean something like “advancing far into the future”, not into the past. The lyrics translation seems to agree. However, the translations that I see of the first occurrence of the chorus with a different particle “遥か先で” just seem to be like “far away”.

Anyway, in “遥か先へ進め”, the word 先 clearly does not mean “previous”. However, in general, I can’t tell when 先 will mean future versus previous (or when it means something different entirely). Just pairing it with various particles and putting it into Google Translate offers no clarity. Wanikani’s example sentences don’t offer clarity. Does anyone have any hints?

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There have been a few threads on this if you search for 先.

They may be helpful.

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Those seemed to focus on different usages, including position. Maybe, さき is a word where, when not relating to position, every single collocation just needs to be memorized to know when it is referring to the past or the future from a particular reference time.

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The 遥か先へ進め seems similar to what I was mentioning in that thread about “what lies ahead.” It’s “ahead” and “before” but it’s in the future.

I feel like it’s mostly about perspective, and we do the same thing in English.

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この先 and これから先 refer to the future, use 先 as a reference to the current, so theoretically still “previous”, but it feels like a different “previous” than the one used in time unit expressions.

Now that I think about it, since the additional meaning of 先 is “tip” or “point”, more vague time expressions might actually use this meaning and not “previous”.

Sort of like when とき becomes before or after depending on the verbs used in the sentence?

Oh… 先… It took me several years to get used to it. Until then I was just ignoring it whenever it appeared and avoiding using it at all costs, lol.
I do remember after six years of studying Japanese (5 back at home and 1 in Japan) being asked by a Japanese beginner what 先 means and being “oh… that… nevermind…” to what they were all “No, I’m serious, please teach me” and I could only answer “And I’m dead serious I don’t know how to answer that. Please don’t insist.”

These days I use it normally, but I don’t really know how to explain it in a nice way. Just that, as @Leebo said, it’s definitely not exclusive to Japanese. Time expression are a huge mess more often than not.

No, I don’t have any useful advice or explanation about 先 to give you. I just saw an opportunity to talk about a past trauma and took it, sorry.

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I think this is a little different. What you’re talking about is the use of とき as a grammar structure to arrange events into a timeline. It doesn’t change the meaning of とき.

It’s the same in english.

The first person in line is ahead of you, but the first person who went through the door went in previously, which is in the past, which is behind you.

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