Saturday, December 06, 2008

Going Forward At The End of The Day

Like you know how, like we hear young people overuse the word, like "like." Like, well, adults who, parrot-like, like repeat and overuse a few words and phrases themselves.

As their teen counterparts, many adults have the need to be part of the cool, in-crowd by mimicking their repetitive jargon.

My favorite giveaways to adult professionals with egos way too large and vocabularies way too small for their mission include their overuse (or use) of the phrases:

- Going forward (as opposed to going backwards or standing still?)
- At the end of the day (which day, today? Tomorrow?
- To be sure (Of what?)

Here is an apt short essay by Jim Kershner of "The Spokesman-Review" from November 11, 2007, on the topic of "Going Forward".

Going forward, I am declaring war on the phrase "going forward."

In my capacity as Official Defender of the American-English Language, I have embarked on many lonely crusades. For instance, I have railed against both the proliferation of the word "sucks" and the overuse of the phrase "perfect storm." (In short, I believe it sucks to overuse "perfect storm.")

Yet my campaign against "going forward" is fundamentally different. This phrase is not merely overused. This phrase is completely unnecessary in every single instance.

Yet this useless phrase has become an indispensable part of business, political, and, I am sad to admit, journalistic jargon. Just the other day, I heard it used three times in the space of about an hour, in three different realms:

By a political commentator: "Hillary Clinton's campaign strategy, going forward, will be to focus on …"

By a football announcer: "This team needs to a lay a foundation, going forward, of establishing a running game …

"By a management executive: "Going forward, our plan will be …"

Pardon me if this sounds forward, but isn't "going forward" just slightly moronic? Is it possible, for instance, to have a strategy going backward?

Take out the phrase "going forward" in all three instances, and the meaning remains exactly the same.

To understand why, it helps to understand one basic concept of physics – one that, frankly, is not all that complicated.

Time goes only one direction. It does not go backward, despite what you have read in your comic books. It does not go sideways, except for certain people who choose to stay 39 forever. Time, which rules us all, goes only forward.

Since the phrase refers, 100 percent of the time, to time (as opposed to, say, yardage), we can reach only one logical conclusion: It is never necessary to specify which direction we are going, because we are always going the same direction, at least until such time as the universe suffers a reversal in the time-space continuum.

Hey, that could happen someday. Going forward.

So, you can decide for yourselves. Let me toss out a few common "going forward" constructions and you tell me how necessary they are:

"Going forward into 2008, we need to refocus on our core mission."

"Here's what I propose we do, going forward."

"What exactly, should we be looking for in this industry, going forward?"

"To be or not to be – that is the question going forward" (this, from a philosopher-poet-executive).

Oh, all right, there may be a few occasions when "going forward" might have its uses. I suppose that it can be used to clarify the distinction between "now" and "in the future."

For instance, you might reasonably say, "Right now, we need to hunker down and ride out this storm. But, going forward, we need to invest in some raincoats."

Still, it's nothing that the words "then" and "soon" haven't been able to handle for centuries.

And even though I just said that "going forward" refers to time, 100 percent of the time, I can imagine isolated cases in which it refers to actual distance.

Possibly acceptable usage: "Shaun Alexander needs to gain six inches on this play, going forward."

Always unacceptable usage: "Shaun Alexander needs to get his head into this game, going forward."

As I take a breath here, I realize that I have possibly, just maybe, become a little over-agitated over this essentially harmless phrase. I'm sorry.

This is my own problem. I'll try to get over it. Still, I can't help but worry that the English language is, you know, going backward.

"At the end of day" has similar problems. At the end of which day are they referring? The end of today? At 5pm or midnight? Or maybe at the end of your term of office in 30 days? Or at the end of the period our collective memories still function about how bad we screwed things up with the decision whose results will be known "at the end of the day."

Is this a new twist for "when it's all said and done" or "ultimately" or "in the end?" For the first week or two one hears these terms, they do sound like the speaker is "with it" and quite "avant garde." But man, do these phrases grow old fast. I heard one speaker use the term "going forward" no fewer than 15 times during a three minute speech. I thought the needle was stuck on an old scratched up LP...going forward going forward going forward going. After a minute I couldn't tell if he was coming or going forward.

"To be sure" is another.  To be sure of what?  As opposed to be uncertain and totally clueless?  What!

A national survey was conducted asking executives what were the most annoying phrases or buzzwords they heard recently. Their responses included:

“At the end of the day”
“Thinking outside the box”
“Take it offline”
“Redeployed people”
“On the runway”
“Get on the same page”
“Customer centric”
“Generation X”
“Accountability management”
“Core competency”
"Smell test", ("straight face test" or "laugh test")
"Run it up the flag pole”
"Critical path"
"Low-hanging fruit"
"Brain dump"

Here is the 2008 list of banished words from Lake Superior State Univerity.

New buzz words will be created every day. While they are catchy for awhile, they have a short shelf life (there's another one for ya'). Their coolness turns to irritating pretty fast.

It appears this mindless assimilation and repetition of our jargon is similar to how we mindlessly identify so-called problems and priorities like global warming and "green initiatives". Pandemically, most everyone, like a rapidly spreading virus, declare "the sky is falling". Fortunately there are alway a few unaffected cells remaining who can bring the body back to equilibrium and health.

We too often invent and pass on our newest national priorities as thoughtlessly as we create and repeat our jargon.

But going forward at the end of the day, when you download all your low hanging fruit thinking outside the box, it is what it is.

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