With the passing into law of a carbon tax – a tax aimed at minimising the toxic pollution of our air, it is time Australia considers a ‘going forward’ tax – a tax aimed squarely at those who pollute our airwaves with this and other most noxious of phrases.

This hollow, meaningless mantra is muttered unconsciously by almost everyone in public life.  Politicians of course, are the largest emitters, tacking it on to the end of almost every sentence that leaves their mouths.  Our own PM was so enamoured with the phrase that she used it 24 times in a 5 minute TV appearance last year, attracting much deserved criticism from those who value the beauty inherent in the English language.  It is also parroted by businessmen and women, bureaucrats and now, even sports coaches.  While business folk and bureaucrats are infamous for their mining of the English language, think ‘Memorandum of Understanding’, ‘KPI’s’ or ‘Mission Statement’, the infection of the sports world is, to borrow another empty, yet popular term, regrettable.

This flat, dull, numbing language has infected the world of sport, most notably our national game, my beloved AFL.  Now while it has never been a world of linguists, scholars or wordsmiths, what the language of the sports world did have once was passion, emotion and arousal.  Yes, gone are the days of rousing ¾ time speeches from the likes of John Kennedy, Allan Jeans and Ron Barassi.  To hear a coach speak now, is to be subjected to nothing more than boring corporate speak – KPI’s, inside 50’s, stoppages, clearances, effective this and effective that.  This bland, uninspiring language is shown for what it really is when compared to the spine tingling speeches of yesteryear.  It is coupled with the erosion of the Australianisms in the AFL.  We now hear the top of the goal square referred to as the ‘kick off line’ (Guilty: Dennis Commetti) when in fact nobody ever ‘kicks off’ in AFL, they kick out, we also hear of players ‘catching’ the ball, as opposed to ‘marking’ the ball (Guilty: Dermot Brereton).  While these are minor language crimes, part of what makes our indigenous game so special is its unique terminology and it would be a damn shame to have it usurped by foreign lingo and Americanisms.

Paradoxically, the pollutant ‘going forward’, or ‘moving forward’, does the exact opposite to the language.  A sluggish, heavy expression, it drags the language backwards and weighs it down.  Like an anchor thrown overboard, ‘going forward’ festers on the floor of the ocean, fulfilling its only function, that of stagnation.  In gifted hands our language is beautiful, powerful and moving.  In the wrong hands it can be dangerous, vicious, infuriating or just plain boring.  Our language is capable of painting delicate pictures on the heaviest subjects.  It can be inspirational and moving, even in the hands of politicians and business leaders, thus there is no need to weigh it down unnecessarily with lazy, boring and dispassionate expressions.  If ever you want to demotivate someone, or have them tune out of what you are saying, simply insert ‘going forward’ or ‘moving forward’ and your goal (or KPI) will be easily achieved.

While ‘going forward’ is the McDonalds of modern English misspeak, there are many other pollutants, clogging our airwaves with high calorie, low nutrition language.

‘Hey, John, how was your weekend?’

‘It was a great weekend Betty, I went camping,’

‘Oh yeah, that’s something different,’

No it is not Betty!  It is not ‘something different’.  If John said he went seal clubbing or whale hunting or drove a unicycle naked through the city while juggling chainsaws, then sure, they could all be considered ‘something different’.  But going camping, or going to a concert, or going bowling, or playing tennis, or anything like that is not ‘something different’.  It baffles me why people constantly refer to common activities as ‘something different’.  It is simply filling the atmosphere with yet another useless, meaningless expression.  And like ‘going forward’ it is spreading into the unconscious.  Stop it!  Perhaps people, deep down, yearn for something different to do?  I don’t know.  Or does Betty think that if she says to John, ‘Oh, didn’t you go camping last weekend?’ that John may feel boring, because he did not do ‘something different’?  Maybe John likes to go camping?  I don’t know, but goddammit people, stop saying ‘something different’ when clearly it is not!

Try these replies instead Betty…

‘Hey, John, how was your weekend?’

‘It was a great weekend Betty, I went camping,’

‘Oh yeah, did you have a good time?’ or…

‘Oh, didn’t you go camping last weekend?  Do you go camping a lot?’ or…

‘Oh yeah, where did you go?’ or…

‘It was a good weekend for camping, nice weather,’

The next week…

‘Hey John, you look tired, did you have a late night?’

‘Yes Betty, I went out to the pub last night with some friends.  I got home at 2am in the morning, so I am pretty tired today,’

‘Oh 2am in the morning John – as opposed to 2am IN THE AFTERNOON!!???’ You’re a dickhead John, I know 2am is the morning!’

There are countless other phrases, emitted daily, polluting the beauty of the English language – ‘national interest’, ‘health care professional’, ‘core values’, ‘shouldn’t of’, ‘worlds best practice’, ‘yeah, nuh’, ‘touch base’, ‘memorandum of understanding’ and ‘current climate’ are just a small selection.  None of these expressions succeed in the language ‘moving forward’ or ‘going forward’.  Quite the opposite.  Akin to an oil spill, this language blackens the ocean, killing off all the precious life it encounters and destroying the colour and vibrancy of language.  These soulless, cadaveric phrases bring a death to expression and murder the interest of the audience.  Prolonged exposure to these decayed phrases will only result in turning us into thoughtless, expressionless zombies.

In 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, Martin Luther King Jnr. made perhaps the most famous speech of modern times.  He roared to the two hundred thousand strong crowd, ‘I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed… I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood… I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character…’  Grown men and women wept at his words and were inspired to take action.  King’s speech showed the power of language in the right hands.  Nowadays Dr. King may proclaim, ‘I have a dream that going forward this nation will achieve its desired outcomes… we will move forward together, in the national interest, and achieve our key performance indicators… the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will touch base in mutual understanding… we will benchmark ourselves against the worlds best practice and we unite with a mutually beneficial memorandum of understanding on moving forward…’

Oh I feel inspired, yeah, to bang my head against a wall.

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