Plain English

Gobbledygook going forward

My highlight of the week was the WriteMark Plain English Awards dinner at Shed 5. 

Last year, I had the honour (and pressure) of being the after-dinner speaker

This year, I could just relax and enjoy the wit of Fair Go’s Kevin Milne, and the wisdom of my former Colenso colleague Ian McDougall.

Turns out Kevin’s most loathed piece of gobbledygook is the same as mine: 

…going forward.

The explosion of cheers at its every mention suggested that this ghastly phrase has attained the status of Plain English Enemy Number One.


Because it’s mind-numbingly, teeth-gnashingly, hair-tearingly, eye-gougingly superfluous. That’s why.

No prizes for guessing where it came from, either.

Everything about going forward points to an American parentage. 

It almost certainly first gushed from the larynx of an earnest, white, male business grad from the west coast, where they delight in californicating with all things English. (Most regrettably the accent of Winnie the Pooh.)

Going forward is like for grownups.

But worse.

If like is the new um, going forward is the new full-stop. What was so wrong with the old full-stop? It’s not hard: when you come to a full-stop, stop.

Ian McDougall’s message was pithy, pertinent, and, in certain civil serving sectors of Thorndon at least, probably decades ahead of its time.

It boiled down to this: 

Clarity gets you hired.
Complexity gets you fired.

And so they do. In Adland anyway. (Which is where Ian lives, and I used to.)

In ad agencies, clarity has been a highly-prized commodity since at least the 1960s. Clarity is currency.

(By the way, Ian remembers the sixties and I don’t. Does that mean I was there and he wasn’t?)

What’s clear is that, outside of advertising, clarity remains scarce and not particularly highly prized.

Here’s to that changing.

Here’s to it one day being as prized by the Ministry of Education and its partner in pedagogical pomposity the New Zealand Qualifications Authority – last year’s worthy winner of the supreme Brainstrain Award.

But wait, there appears to be hope…

Could things have turned a corner for these bureaucrobabblers who we so optimistically entrust to teach our kids to read and write?


And no.

At this year’s ceremony, the Ministry of Education stunned the room by winning an award for writing something well.

I forget what.

Before we could fully savour this great triumph for state education, it was announced that the Ministry had again made the shortlist in the gobbledygook category – for a document called: 

AsTTle: Learning pathways report for test.

Don’t ask me.

Acronyms so Tedious That learners expire?
A spelling Testing Tool littered with errors?

Who knows? One thing’s for sure though…

The day writers and teachers are rewarded for creating clarity instead of confusion, will be the day New Zealand can truly, proudly claim to be going forward.

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