Moving forward. Stop moving forward. Full stop.
Date: October 16, 2013
The meaningless phrase ‘going forward’ makes my blood boil. Get rid of it.
”… there are lessons here for me to learn going forward, and I certainly look forward to working with Anthony Albanese to understand some of those lessons.”
Bill Shorten, October 13
How far can you go with going forward? Is it time to move on from moving forward? In the case of new Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, his use of this terrible expression and its variant – ”going” or ”moving”, they’re equally fatuous to me – thrice in one afternoon sets an ominous tone.
You would think Shorten, whose command of the language one would imagine is considerable, would have learnt from the 2010 election campaign. That was when Labor and then prime minister Julia Gillard adopted ”Moving Forward” as the slogan. ”Om” would have been a better mantra. Or ”Freeze”, since, as it turned out, any forward motion was delayed by a hung parliament. But, no. Shorten, on the very day of his leadership victory, clung to ”going forward” with the tenaciousness of a barnacle to a rusted hull. (Not a bad metaphor: Barnacle Bill and Good Ship Labor.)
Obviously, indeed almost tragically, Shorten appears oblivious to the curse hanging over the use of GF or MF. I doubt if it was ever regarded as a useful phrase, but somehow its reputation as the Salvation Jane of syntax continues unchecked. It also tends to crop up, uninvited, at the end of otherwise perfectly normal sentences that deserve a better life.
Let’s rewrite history. Hamlet: ”To be or not to be. Going forward”; or Henry V: ”Once more into the breach, dear friends. Moving forward”. Or Descartes: ”I think, therefore I am. Going forward”. Indeed, Albert Einstein could, in relativity terms, move forwards and backwards at the same moment as passing a fast train.
The phrase is a favourite of presidents. Barack Obama, whose ”Moving America Forward” slogan actually helped his re-election, uses the term on average only five times a speech. Sportspeople thrive on regular GF treatments. David Beckham once uttered a Zen-like version, ”Going forward, who knows?” Even Myanmar has got into the act. Next year, the former Burma assumes the chair of ASEAN under the slogan, ”Moving forward in unity towards a peaceful and prosperous community”. That’s bad enough in English. What it must sound like in any of the nation’s 100-odd languages can only be imagined.
”When it comes to developing our policies going forward and reviewing other policies, that’ll be the province of the Labor caucus in the first instance.”
Bill Shorten, October 13
Mind you, to aid the cause, there are powerful forces at work. In Britain, the 450,000 employees in the civil service have been banned from using 30 so-called ”ugly words” or metaphors. A new style guide lays down the law. In addition to ”key”, ”dialogue” and ”progress” (as a verb), ”going forward” is right up there, with the wry comment: ”Unlikely we are giving travel directions.” I do wish ”rolling out” (as in policies) had been included, but give it time.
If bureaucrats can be instructed to modify their language, why can’t politicians follow suit? In fact, why not any person in public life who values cogent communication instead of concealing it in a thicket of gobbledegook. As George Orwell, that well-known author of Myanmar Days, said: ”Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
”[Mr Albanese] has the ferocious capacity to apply considerable intellect to holding the Coalition to account, both in government and I have no doubt going forward in opposition.”
Bill Shorten, October 13
Why, of all the weasel words and phrases in existence, is ”going forward” at the top of my seek-and-destroy list? Why, with so many blue skies, empowerments, deliveries, stakeholders, leveragings, impacting-ons, box-tickings, strategy-drivings, immersives, priorities, triallings, taskings, deep verticals and robust key proposals knocking around in the language; why, when I hear ”going forward”, do I experience two immediate simultaneous sensations – pockets of rage expanding within my chest and the urge to bray with laughter at yet another senseless deployment of this pompous, overworked, meaningless, ridiculous and flatulent solecism?
Derision through humour could be the most effective method to stop ”going forward” in its tracks. Laughter, I decided after one too many chest pains, was the better medicine, and far more effective a deterrent than simply growling like a gorilla with toothache.
May I urge you to do the same? Next time you hear ”moving (or going) forward” – probably as a syntactical tic like ”y’know” or, like ”like” – laugh explosively. If enough of us adopt Operation Static – as it shall be known – we could make it work. Take to the barricades (that’s moving up, not forwards), tell your friends, create a groundswell, crowd out public and political rallies and annual general meetings and laugh this wretched, godforsaken phrase out of existence.
Michael Shmith is a senior writer at The Age.