Going Forward, Part 1

Otherwise known as the Department of Redundancy Bureau.

It’s rare that this pointless phrase is ever useful. Ninety-some percent of the time, you can slice it out of a sentence and never know it was there. To prove this, let’s take some random headlines and other lines from the Internet:

“Greek economy faces challenges going forward”

“Biggest positional needs going forward for Steelers”

“Sony reveals business plan going forward for 2012”

“We recently announced that, going forward, Windows Phone will be ….”

“Celtics going forward with a familiar core”

Okay, that last one is a legitimate use. The others? Well, I could cross my eyes every time I heard such nonsense, but as Mom used to warn, “Your face will freeze like that.”

An editor risks frostbite at all the redundancies in newspapers, on billboards, in junk mail, on TV, on radio, online, on banners behind small airplanes, etc. etc. For example:

* free gift                                                                                  * 9 am in the morning

* added bonus                                                                         * continue on

* unexpected surprise                                                           * true fact

* PIN number, VIN number, ATM machine,                   * armed gunman

SAT test, HIV virus                                                               * unconfirmed rumor

* surrounded on all sides                                                     * past history

Piece of cake, as they say, to edit such phrases as “a variety of different things” and “a potential hazard.” That’s why I can pretty much promise an ability to shorten any piece of prose — there are always cliches, redundancies, multiple words and phrases where one or two will do, and so on.

In most cases, I guess, people just aren’t paying attention. Most people don’t give any more thought to language than they do to their route to work or what they had for breakfast Monday. More important, they never learned grammar in the first place, never had the benefit of reading literature, didn’t learn a foreign language and analyze the differences with English, didn’t do crosswords, or didn’t have teachers who pointed out illogic with red pens and led class discussions on, say, “9 am in the morning,” a term I keep hearing on WTOP around 7 am. In the morning.

I expect that of Everyman at this point. I don’t expect it from President Obama and his speechwriters, who allowed “going forward” a few days ago. Ugh! Speaking only about grammar and language, we had eight years of an inane president. This one was a constitutional law professor known for his erudite speeches and a couple of well-reviewed bestsellers he wrote himself. Et tu?

Of course, spoken language has something of an excuse for redundancy. You need to be understood both literally and figuratively. Advertisers want to get that magic word “free” into your head. “PIN” is one syllable, so “PIN number” is clearer on the phone and in recorded instructions. Presidents, perhaps, want to sounds like your average Joe (Biden? Plumber?), though the wisdom of that varies by what they say. If studies show that people need to hear a message eight times before it sticks, maybe a bit of redundancy is forgivable when life has so many distractions.

But there’s no excuse for “future plans” or “true fact” (do people really say that unironically?). Aggravating as it is to hear terms like this, the best approach may be a dual one: as an editor, to strike them whenever possible, and as a listener, to laugh. It’s better than raising my blood pressure or crossing my eyes. But more on that in the next chapter — Going Forward, Part 2 — about cliches.

Copyright 2012 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

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