Thursday, 14 July 2016

Tense moments

I've been trying very hard not to write posts on what I think are misuses of English. But I've just listened to something that has pushed me over the edge. Let me rant.

The perpetrator is a schoolgirl, campaigning against Tesco selling eggs from caged birds. And she has achieved a result. Her online petition has reached 200,000 signatures, and Tesco have taken note, giving now an undertaking to phase out the sale of such eggs by...2025.

Ah, not yet the desired result, as 2025 is nine years off. So her campaign will continue. I say: good for her! All power to her cause! I don't mind one bit paying more for eggs from hens who can move about and enjoy a better life. Let them throw off their yoke. And let Tesco have egg on its big fat corporate face.

She was talking about it on BBC Radio 4's You and Yours today. But towards the end, when discussing having to exert more pressure on Tesco - to persuade them to bring that compliance date forward from 2025 to a date nearer to now - she perplexed me by saying she wanted them to 'bring the date further into the future'.

What was that? Further into the future? Did she mean push the compliance date further into the future, to 2030 say?

No, she said bring. And of course she meant 2020 or 2018. That is, nearer or closer in the future. She had blundered over how to express what she meant.

And yet she sounded pretty articulate, as if completely confident when talking to a BBC Radio interviewer, and saying exactly what she intended. The strange words came out smoothly, as if something she (and her school-friends) would say quite naturally, on a daily basis. It clearly wasn't a conscious mistake. She enthusiastically repeated these same words shortly afterwards, while still being interviewed.

And don't tell me that schoolgirls are air-heads who will say anything. This was a no-nonsense, intelligent young person.

I will say at once that if the Rising Generation is going to mangle the Future Tense like this, then one day nobody will be able to clearly indicate, through words alone, when in time something is going to happen. English could become a language where you infer futurity through sheer context, rather than with actual words, logically used.

Bad news if people like me are still around. We'll be saying things these youngsters can't understand. We'll be talking in an old-fashioned cult lingo called Oldspeak.

I might as well now rant about two other phrases connected with time that have been annoying me. Indeed, they both make me grit my teeth in a rictus of pain. But all I can do is bite on it, and hope they are just fads that will pass.

The first: from the get-go. Who imported that one? Who ever first thought it was a necessary and clearer substitute for from the start, or from the beginning, or from the moment the go-ahead was given? It has an American air. Perhaps it's from some American stadium sport. Alternatively, it might have a business origin, and is some kind of Managementspeak or Advertisingspeak. Whatever may be the case, lots of different people have picked this phrase up. I suppose they think it adds refreshing novelty to their speech. But it sounds irritatingly hackneyed already. And horribly unBritish. Unfortunately it will linger on the lips of union leaders and similar types for a while yet.

The second tooth-grinding phrase is: going forward. Meaning simply in the future. It's not quite so bad as the other phrase, but it's desperately redundant. When did in the future ever need this lifeless euphemism? Perhaps it's just another passing fad, a phrase people have seized on because it sounds 'better'. I can see why a politician might prefer to use it, as it doesn't commit the sayer to anything more than the contemplation of some vague period yet to come, such as when there will finally be World Peace and Prosperity, and No More Wars. Or when you can get walk-in treatment at every hospital, without waiting. Ha.

Both expressions share a further nuance of course, that of positive progress.

Mention of the 'get-go' could suggest a starting-pistol situation. The speaker describing a racing progress towards some winning line. So it's a 'good' form of words for anyone who wants to convey urgency and keenness, and a strong will to get on with the job and see it through quickly. The pistol fired, we leapt forward from the blocks, and we are here already... Yawn.

Any phrase that includes the word 'forward' implies movement in the right direction, towards a clear destination, at a noticeable pace. To a plan, maybe. Of course!

Weasel words indeed.


  1. Like, from the get go , going forward the vast majority will decimate our language, like., U know.

  2. Yeah. Eye can C that hpnng 4 shore.


  3. I would of commented earlier but I couldn't think of nothing to say.

  4. Nuff said then. Y waste wordz n branepwr on stuff n thingz.



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