, Newburyport, MA

October 17, 2013

Forward march on Merrimud Mall

As I See It
Jack Garvey

---- — 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.”

From the founder of Forward Newburyport, a new group of marketers and businesses to promote waterfront development:

“This is just more of the same obstructionist propaganda. Comparing Newburyport to Boston is like comparing Eve to Adam.”

So much for the Atlantic Ocean. And so much for the rib, the garden, the tree, the apple, the fig leaves, and those adorable boys.

We’d be able to raise cane with the Freudian implications of all that suppressed memory, but it’s the dismissal of science as obstructionism that gives the game away:

Forget Prozac, “Forward” is a pair of blinders.

This explains Mayor Donna Holaday’s stupefying request that opponents of waterfront development stop writing in newspapers.

If science is obstruction, debate must be constipation.

For horses on city streets long ago, blinders made practical sense.

For a city considering its floodplain in this ocean-rising present, blinders make no sense other than dollars and cents for a few.

And folly for the future.

Another commenter suggests “precautions” are “possible.” By that logic:

Chefs could lace entrees with tasty chemicals by offsetting the risk with sides of antibiotics at Dive-In Diner and Bistro de la Bubbles.

Capsize Condos could feature furniture that floats.

Aqualung Art Gallery could laminate every painting.

Young couples could play flippersies at Snorkel Snack Bar.

Underwater Bank’s name would play on both senses of both words.

Glug-Glug Garage could have waterproof doors.

Think I’m being flip? Waterproof doors are among the “precautions” to which all members of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority nodded their heads at their Sept. 18 meeting.

Blinders always work well on head-nodders.

From the canyons of California, the deserts of Arizona, the forests and streams of Colorado, the aquifers of the Dakotas, the bayous of Louisiana, the shale formations of Texas, Michigan, Pennsylvania and more, to the barrier beach where I now write, the evidence is as overwhelming as it is clear:

Defy Mother Nature and you lose.

While Holaday wears the blinders of Froward Forward, challenger Richard Sullivan will do better to heed Kurt Vonnegut:

“A step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction.”

For Newburyport such a step will be far healthier than Prozac, figurative or literal.


Jack Garvey of Plum Island can be reached at