, Newburyport, MA


October 17, 2013

Forward march on Merrimud Mall

Never thought it possible for another word to rival “appropriate” as the Prozac of modern American English.

Meaningless due to overuse, “appropriate” lulls us into accepting nonsense free of proof or reason.

To that end it now has a rival for which Newburyport is Groundwater Zero:


To understand its deception, consider its evolution as a marketing phenomenon:

Toyota’s “Moving Forward” ad campaign in 2004 proved so successful that the Bush administration began injecting the phrase like a vaccine into every public statement.

One press conference featured the president alongside Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, both including “moving forward” or “looking forward” in each answer.

Repetition’s singsong effect — plus Bush’s smirk and Rice’s pinched expression — made it seem like a “Saturday Night Live” skit.

When Rice finished with “We’re looking forward to moving forward,” you may have wondered if it was.

Other advertisers keep taking Toyota’s lead, especially its competitors:

Acura, “Advance.”

Ford, “Go Further.”

As an electric car, Chevy Volt “helps drivers charge forward.”

Advocacy journalism behooves MSNBC to “Lean Forward.”

And Delta lifts “forward” off the runway with “Keep Climbing.”

“Forward” now permeates the language of politics, business, education and sports. If verbal ticks were symptomatic of a disease, “going forward” would rival “you know” and “I mean” as an epidemic on radio stations as varied as WGBH and WEEI.

Earlier this year fellow columnist Jonathan Wells, citing political campaigns, called “forward” a word with “as many interpretations as there are voters.”

When I told him I thought it a marketing drug, his response was my epiphany:

“Puts me in mind of the rather rare word ‘froward,’ which … needs to be rehabilitated.”

Eureka! “Forward Newburyport” is a typographical error for a group “willfully contrary” to facts and “not easily managed” by logic.

Consider the online responses to James Critchlow’s Aug. 27 letter documenting Boston’s problems with buildings on its “extensive waterfront in the face of rising sea waters.”

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