Monday, 20 July 2020

Going Forward: a Cliché, a Dangling Participle, and an Incomplete Nominative Absolute, All in One

A set of spanners from Mike Pence's tool box
Remember when everyone was moving the markers forward, and ideas had legs? Clichés come and go, and now, everywhere, everything seems to be going forward.

The towers were characterised by having common lifts and common walkways, and they presented an "acute challenge going forward".

There will be more gut-wrenching volatility, going forward.

Going forward, buyers will likely be examining their purchases just that little bit more closely.

And we would expect Vice President Pence to speak in clichés.

”Well, the president said today, we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” Mr. Pence said. “That’s the reason why next week, the C.D.C. is going to be issuing a new set of tools, five different documents that will be giving even more clarity on the guidance, going forward.”


Pence would have done well to have followed one of George Orwell’s rules for good writing:

Never use a simile, metaphor, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

He uses another cliché as well. Like the Road Map, the Tool Box is the politician’s metaphor of the moment. But a set of tools is hardly an effective image for the documents to be issued by the CDC. What picture does it conjure up?

Dangling Participle

What exactly is going forward? The challenge? Volatility?  Buyers? Guidance?  These are the nouns next to, and therefore, seemingly modified by, the participle (verbal adjective) “going”. But no, “going” is in fact a dangling participle, left dangling,  because the noun it is really modifying has disappeared. And what is that noun? This is where it gets a bit esoteric, grammatically speaking. Your eyes may glaze over here.

Nominative Absolute

There is a rather unusual construction in English called the nominative absolute. This imitates a more famous Latin construction, called the ablative absolute. Both of these constructions are free-standing phrases, usually at the beginning or end of the sentence, set off from the main clause. The construction is called "absolute" because it is independent of the rest of the sentence, "nominative", because it is in the nominative (subjective) case. Here are some examples of the nominative absolute:

The weather being sunny, we decided to go for a swim.


They decided to sell their stocks, share prices having risen.

or, from my favourite novel, which I happen to be rereading.

The whist party soon afterwards breaking up, the players gathered round the table, and Mr, Collins took his station between Elizabeth and Mrs. Phillips.

"Going forward" seems to be part of  a nominative absolute construction, where the noun has been omitted, but is vaguely understood, as in [the situation] going forward, or [events] going forward, or simply [time] going forward.

In brief

The cliché "going forward", which flows so easily from politicians' lips, is a dangling participle, and an incomplete nominative absolute.        

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