Occasional Rifftides grumping about torture of the English language goes back eight years or so, nearly to the earliest days of the blog. It has been months since the last grump, but yesterday as the Denver Broncos were presenting Super Bowl victory to Seattle on a silver platter, a commentator reminded me that it is time to rejoin the losing battle. He speculated about quarterback Peyton Manning’s future “going forward.” The sports guy is in good, or at least prominent, company. Diplomats and politicians are addicted to the phrase. Journalists, bureaucrats and academics are not far behind. Here are recent examples:
At this point, what I’ve said is that my baseline is a strong civil union that provides them the protections and the legal rights that married couples have, and I think that’s the right thing to do. But I recognize that from their perspective it is not enough, and I think this is something that we’re going to continue to debate, and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward.—President Barack Obama, December 22 news conference.
But the president has already said we are prepared to be there for a number of years going forward in a very different role, a very diminished role of training, advising and equipping the Afghans.—Secretary of State John Kerry on ABC’s This Week.
But obviously, there are issues of enormous concern to the Holy See, not just about peace, but also about the freedom of access for religious worship in Jerusalem for all religions and appropriate resolution with respect to Jerusalem that respects that going forward.—Kerry, visiting Rome, January 14, 2014.
Western diplomats expressed confidence about Iran sticking to the terms of an interim nuclear accord signed in Geneva last month as they met to discuss implementing the agreement and the process going forward for negotiating an end state deal.—PBS News Hour, December 5.
David Cooper, an economic analyst at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in Washington, said the announcement of the pay hike is “a good step going forward” but is limited in its reach.—USA Today, January 28, 2014.
Remove “going forward” from each of those examples and you make its meaning clearer. So, why do people use it? I like this explanation in the online Urban Dictionary.
Going forward is purported to mean, “In the future” or “somewhere down the road” when in fact it is an attempt to dodge the use of these words, which generally indicate “I don’t know.” In a newer development in corporate doublespeak, in most companies it is grounds for dismissal to release a press release without mentioning something ‘going forward’. Going forward, you will likely see this turning up everywhere.
‘Our company expects to make a profit going forward.’
‘We don’t expect any layoffs going forward.’
From Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style:
Elementary Principles of Composition: 13. Omit needless words.
When it comes to clarity of expression, “going forward” has us going backward.
To see previous Rifftides posts about usage, go here.