Going forward… and other mumbo jumbo

Guess the occupation of the person who said this: “It set the platform going forward for the remainder of the…”

No, it wasn’t our PM, any other politician, or some corporate bod. It was a footy player, covered in mud and sweat and gasping for air.  

Clearly mumbo-jumbo is catching. What’s wrong with saying: “It set us up for the rest of the game”? You’ve got to worry when weasel words hit the footy field.

So leave platforms for bus and train stations, or for standing on to clean the windows of multi-storey buildings (among other things). Use remainders when you’re talking about left over stuff you’re selling off cheaply (or other valid uses).

And for the love of … language (and sanity), forget any phrase involving going forward. For a start, it’s superfluous because it’s clear you’re not talking about going backward. It’s also perfectly fine to talk about the future. Even if the Mayan Calendar runs out next year, most of us are confident we have a ‘future’, so it’s okay to mention the f-word. Or am I just an eternal optimist?

Ditto for forward planning, unless you usually backward plan and you need to make the difference clear.

Let’s all relax – mean what we say, say what we mean, and lose the mumbo-jumbo. Because simple language doesn’t mean you are simple. It means you’re quite clever actually.

It also means people’s eyes won’t glaze over before they work out whether you’re talking about the footy game or fiscal policy.

What’s not to like? Our evolving language

We dragonflies are busy tech-editing  engineering reports at the moment. We often come across words that have been made up, but are completely entrenched in engineering-speak. 

Then there are those made-up or misused words that make us smile – like incentivizing something, or disabling as in ‘disabling the operator from opening it’ (which sounds a lot like a safety moment to me!).

So where do we draw the line when it comes to inventing words?

Think about YouTube, Facebook, and other social networking tools. These have evolved from nouns into verbs, as in:

  • why don’t I youtube it
  • let’s google her
  • I’ll skype you
  • you can facebook me

Then there are phrases like ‘make it a priority’ that has become prioritize, or ‘taking action’ that, with a prefix slipped in, has become proactive and means anticipating and taking charge of expected situations.

Of course, there are those who take the linguistic high ground, and say ‘it’s just not cricket’. But where did language come from?

If we’d stuck hard and fast to the past, we’d still be grunting on about the latest antelope kill, or waxing lyrical in the flowery prose of our English ancestors.

Language evolves. For example, new words and acronyms are constantly being added to the Oxford English Dictionary — like this year’s selection, which includes hashtag, unfriend, carbon offsetting, TTYL (talk to you later) and LBD (little black dress), among others. Meanwhile, old words take on new meaning, like tweet – or cougar.

So where do we draw the line in creating language? When the words defeat their purpose – communication. 

If you don’t want to be understood, speak ‘in fine print’ – that is, laced with a good dose of jargon and deliberately designed to obscure meaning.

Language, after all, is about being understood. Using the language your audience is familiar with will create connections and understanding.

All I can say is… what’s not to like? TTYL.