A Moment In Time and Other Linguistic Fads and Jargon

A Moment In Time and Other Linguistic Fads and Jargon

Every era has its linguistic fads. Our own is prone to borrowings from engineering and technology, or at the very least borrowings that sound technical, efficient, precise, and authoritative—even if they don’t mean much or are blatant nonsense.

Foremost among these is “a moment in time,” repeated by pundits, politicians, business people, and newscasters in the belief that its inclusion adds gravitas and urgency to their pronouncements: “Tom, I’m standing here at City Hall, where at this moment in time protestors are gathering.”

We hear this sort of small-scale pomposity all the time and seldom stop to think about how stupid it is. We already have the perfectly serviceable English word “now,” which inserted into the statement above would render it as “Tom, I’m standing here at City Hall, where protestors are now gathering.” But even using “now” is superfluous, because it’s implied in present-tense phrases “I’m standing” and “are gathering.” If protestors are gathering, they are doing it now. Obviously.  At this moment in time.

Another popular phrase repeated by the same list of offenders is “moving forward,” a bit of pseudo-official jargon that means simply “in the future,” but with an implication of having pondered all possibilities, of having recognized and corrected wrongs of the past. If an executive announces a change in plans, such as discontinuing a model, she is more likely to say “Moving forward, we will no longer offer the Mercury Manatee” instead of “As of September, we will discontinue the Manatee.” Both “moving forward” and “in the future” are implied in the future-tense verb “will discontinue.” No further modifications needed.

Particularly annoying is the hijacking of “optics”—a real technical term referring to the behavior of light—as a substitute for “appearances,” as in “The president’s deferrals to the dictator were bad optics.” Add to this the business world’s fascination with “pivot” as code for “change.” Then there’s the ad-writer’s gimmick of making any noun into a verb by adding the preposition “to,” as in “a better way to brain.” Really?

There are dozens of examples that will leap out at you once you start to pay attention. You’ll begin to get a handle on how to write for business clients—and how not to write for a literate audience.

The English language is constantly being distorted by people seeking promotional advantage, trying to rise above the noise with clever turns of phrase—phrases that often spread like grass fires and die out almost as quickly. Remember “he’s got my back” as a compliment to a trusted colleague? Trendy jargon may make a corporate client comfortable but using it elsewhere will put a timestamp on your work as surely as avocado-colored appliances make a kitchen scream “1970s.”