Legal Cheek launches anti-‘going forward’ offensive
“Going forward, I give up,” wrote Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway four years ago, as she brought to a sad end her valiant campaign against the idiotic expression ‘going forward’. “Until a month ago I thought the way forward was to protest at the use of this horrid phrase,” she continued. “But now it is time to admit defeat. ‘Going forward’ is with us on a go-forward basis, like it or not.”
The last straw for Kellaway was the use of the term by then Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chief Christopher Cox in a speech urging financial services professionals to employ clearer language…
Since then, ‘going forward’ has spread, plague-like, to other areas of society. Lawyers now routinely use the term, and not just the corporate legal types. At a recent pro bono event I attended the head of a well known legal charity said ‘going forward’ five times in a ten minute speech.
Why do I find the term so hateful?
Well, it’s not so much that ‘going forward’ tends to be redundant. For example: “Greater pro bono commitment from law firms has the potential to mitigate the effect of the legal aid cuts going forward.” Why not just delete the last two words?
Nor are the alternative phrases available for explicit reference to the future – ‘looking ahead’, ‘in the future’, or for barristers, ‘henceforth’ – particularly great.
No, the issue is the disingenuous way that ‘going forward’ implies the future is inherently benign, and that the speaker is somehow in control of their, and everyone else’s, destiny. Or, as Kellaway puts it: “The phrase conveys the cheesy and misplaced idea that we are on a purposeful journey to a better place. In fact, the future comes whether you like it or not, with no effort from us. And, in terms of progress, history has confirmed that the future can be a lot worse than the present.”
The upside of ‘going forward’, of course, is its usefulness as a way of identifying morons early on in conversation.
Still, the world would be a better place without it. And unlike Kellaway, I believe there is hope, particularly in this climate of protest and change. So whenever you hear a ‘going forward’, I urge you not only to sneer visibly, but pepper any responses with sarcastic related expressions – replacing ‘yesterday’ with ‘going backwards’, for example, or substituting ‘at the moment’ for ‘going nowhere’. This will help the speaker grasp how stupid they sound.
As an incentive, Legal Cheek is offering a special new year VIP guest slot on the #RoundMyKitchenTable podcast, complete with meal of the guest’s choice, for the best ‘going forward’-related put down we receive.
Alex Aldridge is the editor of Legal Cheek