Going forward

Do you ever think, while watching TV or listening to the radio, ‘If I hear that word/phrase/expression again I may scream, swear or damage something!’?

The words that we tend to use in everyday speech – or in a more formal setting – come and go. When you hear a new one, or at least new to you, you might think ‘that’s interesting, what does it mean? I tend to mutter ‘that’s a noun not a verb, you can’t just make that into a verb, a doing word.’ Or ‘that’s a military word, why is he using that in this context?

Some people latch on to new expressions because they think it’s cool to use a new word or a word from a different discipline. Take ‘deploy’. I can’t remember when it first appeared in daily speech but I do remember I had to look it up in the dictionary. ‘Bring or move into position for military action, bring into effective action’ was the answer. I didn’t move in military circles or watch war films so I just hadn’t come across it before. For a while it was everywhere. Why couldn’t we just use ‘make use of’?

Another irritation was the sudden appearance – and adoption by commentators, politicians, presenters, everyone, it seemed, on- and off-line. That phrase is ‘going forward’. I’ve heard it said that it’s originally a banking term but one of my sources on banking terminology didn’t recognise it as such.

It is such a silly, unnecessary phrase, beloved, sadly, of corporate business and marketing offices. At the end of a presentation, they love to finish with something like, ‘and so those are our plans, going forward’. Why is that different from saying ‘so those are our plans.’? ‘Plan’ by its very nature suggests movement towards a goal. Would we ever want to say ‘so those are our plans, going backward’? What’s wrong with ‘So those are our plans for the future’?

I hate it and take every opportunity to delete it and suggest an alternative. I shout at the radio whenever I hear it – which doesn’t really influence anyone but it makes me feel better.

There’s another phrase which is very prevalent at the moment: ‘that’s a good question’. In the past it has often been used by politicians in interviews who really mean ‘that’s a ghastly question, I haven’t got a clue what the answer is so I don’t know what to say. If I trot out ‘that’s a good question’ it’ll give me time to think of a plausible answer.’

The meaning of this phrase seems to be changing and becoming more of an expression of  praise offered to the questioner. ‘How very clever of you to ask that, as the topic is very popular at the moment and I actually know the answer.’ It’s verging on being patronising: ‘how clever of you, a mere deputy supervisor’ – or even – ‘a mere woman’ to know enough about the topic to ask that question!’

We can’t have answers – they must be solutions and, of course, they must be robust. Why do we need to say ‘at this moment in time’ when we mean ‘now’ and how can anything be almost unique? Something is either unique or not unique – it is the only thing of its kind, unlike anything else.

The other phrase which has crash-landed ono the printed page, especially on emails, is ‘reaching out’. ‘Thank you for reaching out’, ‘Please don’t hesitate to reach out if we can help with anything else’. I find I immediately have a mental picture of the princess at the top of the tower who couldn’t reach [out] to her suitor, she had to unpin her hair and let it unwind all the way to the ground so that he could climb up it to reach her penthouse prison.

I could go on. Let me harangue you about one more word that is for the chop, the minute I set eyes on it. It is ‘utilise’ or as our friends in the USA spell it, ‘utilize’. I can’t bear it. What on earth is the matter with ‘use’? It’s short and succinct; being three words rather than seven it takes up less space. It dates back to Middle English, coming from the Old French user based on Latin uti meaning ‘to use’ (according to my Concise Oxford English Dictionary), which is as good a pedigree as any. Why do we need to use ‘utilise’ which just sounds pretentious?

Many people, when they write, want to give the impression that they are intelligent and well-educated. There is nothing wrong with that but they seem to think that they need to use long words to impress. they don’t. What they need is to use simple words whose meaning is clear. Your reader doesn’t want to keep tripping over all these ‘posh’ words: what they need is clarity and the opportunity to grasp the meaning of what you are saying right away. It gives an impression directly opposite to the one you wanted to give and can disrupt the flow of your prose.   It can actually make readers wonder if you are intelligent and well-educated.

It’s often not the writer’s fault as we are influenced, whether we want to be or not, by TV, radio, films, videos – a mass of information coming from the US. I’ve nothing against our American cousins at all (although some of them can be a bit weird) but they have molested the language we gave them and the result is their use of words that have no place in UK English, but sadly, we adopt them all too readily.

Someday, perhaps, Americans will learn to speak our language.

[In a box]

Reference is a noun, refer is the verb

Transition is a noun, use change or move to (verbs)


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