Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Very bad words

Fiscal cliff, my ass!

That wasn't the worst phrase of 2012, not by a flying leap.

Sure, we lemmings declared it the worst — while we were also filling out our 10-best lists, noting notable deaths, celebrating Christmas and fulfilling all the other rituals for kissing off the dying year.

We had a terrible choice of words to choose from.

"Fiscal cliff" is truly bad — politically charged, inaccurate, uttered ad nauseam  — but not the worst.

Nor is "artisanal," a made-up marketing word appearing suddenly on cheeses and breads and lunchmeats this year. It's meant to evoke the sentiment, "Buy the damn thing, already!"

We doubled up on "double down" each time Mitt Romney put his foot in his mouth and refused to remove it.

Most of the other bad words of 2012 escaped my notice because I don't do social media — "meh," "cray" (for crazy), "YOLO" (short for "you only live once"), "hashtag," "jeah" (Ryan Lochte's contribution to language, apparently).

But these are wimpy one-offs, merely annoying mosquitoes compared to the chronic torment of the worst phrase of 2012 or any other year:

Going forward.

If this phrase had its own slogan, it would be, "The really dumb phrase that people use because they think it makes them sound really smart."®™

Which it doesn't.

Not long ago it meant something, as in:
The bus is going forward. (The bus is rolling in a forward direction!)
She is going forward with the plan. (She is carrying out the plan!)
See? Good, plain sense.

No more.

Now people use the stupidest phrase ever this way.
"How will the Giants fare going forward?"
"What is the Republican strategy going forward?"
"Going forward, how will she plea?"
Completely. Meaningless.

Here are the same sentences without: "How will the Giants fare?" "What is the Republican strategy?" "How will she plea?"

Did they change with going forward's removal? They did not! Why?

(1) Someone did us the favor of inventing verb tenses, which tell us when events took place in the past, are happening now, or will happen. Thank you, prescient inventors, for saving us the trouble of having to say going forward when we talk of future events!

(2) Time (as we know and use it) moves in one direction: Forward. We already move forward! We don't have to say so all the time! People know this!

(I don't discount that in my lifetime some kid will roll out of MIT or Yale or Heald College with a $1.99 app that enables easy time travel; until that happens, we won't need going forward to distinguish when and where we're going. We're going forward.)

Stupid and redundant and dumb.

Still, TV and radio pundits say it many times daily, maybe moreso in sports broadcasting. Listen closely next time. Even the otherwise erudite National Public Radio personalities and guest experts say it every day. I bet you heard it six times at work yesterday.

It probably started when someone supposedly smart said it, and admirers copied it because that's how smart people talk — like dumb people. Now it's become the office-speak version of "y'know," and, like, "like."

You can stop it.

Call people out when they use it; it's OK to tell them it's the stupidest phrase ever; they need to know. Recommend they repeat themselves but substitute going backward or going sideways, just to humiliate them. Kick the habit if you're the one annoying the hell out of your office mates; use "at the end of the day" as your linguistic pacifier instead; it's annoying too, but at least it means something ("in the end" or "at the end of the process").

Invent time travel and give going forward meaning.

You owe it to children and the English language. And to physics.

Going forward, I hope for the best. Wait, I'm already going forward.

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