Since I’ve recently been officially awarded the title of Grumpy Old Man, I now feel I have the necessary authorization to vent my spleen about anything and everything that really irritates me.
This morning I got my regular monthly credit card statement, something likely to put me in a bad mood at the best of times. However, at the end of the itemized list of payments, I found the following:
WE ARE PHASING OUT CREDIT CARD CHEQUES. GOING FORWARD WE WILL NO LONGER ISSUE ANY CREDIT CARD CHEQUES.
I don’t actually care about the credit card cheques – they’re a ridiculously bad way of paying for things anyway – but what on Earth is the phrase going forward doing in that sentence?
I’ve taken a swipe at this monster once before, when I blogged about the Wakeham Review of Physics. The example I found then was
The STFC’s governance structure must be representative of the community it serves in order to gain stakeholders’ confidence going forward.
Going forward is one of those intensely annoying bits of office-speak that have spread like Swine ‘flu into the public domain. Pushing the envelope is another one. What does it mean? Why would anyone push an envelope?
Anyway, the worst problem with going forward is that it is now used almost universally in official documents instead of more suitable phrases, such as in future, or from now on. What particularly irritates me about it is that it is usually part of an attempt to present things in a positive light even when they clearly don’t involve any forward movement at all; often, in fact, quite the opposite. It is just one symptom of the insidious culture of spin that seems to be engulfing all aspects of public life, making it impossible to deliver even a simple message without wrapping it up in some pathetic bit of PR. Any kind of change – whether or not there’s any reason for it, and whether or not it improves anything – has to be portrayed as progress. It drives me nuts!
This sort of language is frequently lampooned by Laurie Taylor in his brilliant weekly column for the Times Higher. The Director of Corporate Affairs for the fictional Poppleton University, Mr Jamie Targett, contributes regularly to his column, always in meaningless business-oriented gibberish of this type. In fact, shortly after reading the Wakeham Review quoted above, I sent a letter to the Times Higher (which was published there) accusing Jamie Targett of moonlighting from his job at Poppleton to work on the Wakeham Report.
In the case of my credit card cheques, the implication is that the withdrawal of the service represents some sort of progress. In fact, it’s just to save money. A friend of mine who uses a local gym told me today that the gym had recently announced that
Going forward, members of the gym will no longer be supplied with free towels.
They went on to portray this as a great leap forward in caring for the environment, but in fact it is obviously just a way of saving their costs. Likewise with a sentence I found in a railway timetable recently:
Going forward the 8.15 train from Paddington will no longer call at Didcot Parkway
At least it’s still going to call at Didcot when it’s going backwards, which is the obvious implication of this sentence.
I’m glad I’m not alone in my disapproval of going forward. A year or so ago there was an article on the BBC website making much the same point. However, the amount of going forward has continued to increase. Robert Peston, the BBC business editor, once managed three going forwards in a four minute item on the Today programme.
The Science and Technology Facilities Council has obviously taken this phrase to heart. Their website is chock-a-block with going forward. Here’s an example (referring to a budget cut)
It will result in an approximately constant volume of project activity going forward ..
Obviously, once you start going forward there’s no going back, even if what lies in front of you is financial catastrophe…
PS. Feel free to add your own pet hates via the comments box going forward.