Going forward (was SCOTUS)

Alex Steer alex.steer at GMAIL.COM
Thu May 21 08:31:50 UTC 2009

I've speculated on a possible sense shift from an accounting term at
http://alexsteer.net/2008/06/going-forward/. The relevant bit was:

It seems to come from the practice of management accounting. Company
accountants are, as you’d expect, necessarily rather concerned about
making sure that their companies have enough money to be going on with
in order to survive financially. Income can, after all, ebb and flow
somewhat across a financial year. (Imagine you work for a company that
makes greetings cards. While birthday cards may keep the money coming
in all the year round, you can expect to see big spikes at Easter,
Christmas, Mother’s Day, etc.) So, when preparing accounts and
budgets, accountants tend to take a company’s income for the year,
subtract its expenses, and see what surplus profit is left over (or,
if they’ve overspent, what the deficit is). Assuming this surplus
isn’t given straight to the company’s shareholders as a dividend, it
is carried over onto the balance sheet for the following year. Thus a
company that has a surplus that it carries over is said to have that
surplus ‘going forward’ from one year’s accounts to the next.

This term has solidified into an adverbial phrase and acquired a more
general sense meaning ‘in future’, ‘from now on’. But, you might say,
in this use it scarcely counts as jargon: you gain no value from using
‘going forward’ compared to ‘from now on’. This is true: in fact, it’s
a piece of jargon that has lost much of its technical sense. The
technical sense is, of course, still widely used. You just don’t hear
it, as you’d expect, outside the context of management accounting,
where it carries on harmlessly.


2009/5/21 Automatic digest processor <LISTSERV at listserv.uga.edu>:
> Date:    Wed, 20 May 2009 09:57:52 -0400
> From:    "Baker, John" <JMB at STRADLEY.COM>
> Subject: Re: Going forward (was SCOTUS)
>        Business jargon, I think.  I was pretty sure I heard and used it
> before 2000, but couldn't say just when.   I did a few random searches
> of news reports using the words "going forward," 20 reports per year for
> selected years.  I found 0/20 instances of this use in 1985, 2/20 in
> 1990, 4/20 in 1995, and 12/20 in 2000.  So, at some point in the late
> 1990s, this became the dominant use of "going forward," at least in
> printed news reports.
>        The earliest I saw was from 12/20/1984, in the Los Angeles News
> Record (via Westlaw):  "I see business as tough going forward for the
> next several months."  But I didn't try too hard, since there are so
> many examples of "going forward" with other meanings.
> John Baker
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
> Of Randy Alexander
> Sent: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 12:12 AM
> Subject: Going forward (was SCOTUS)
> On Wed, May 20, 2009 at 1:49 AM, Pat O'Conner
> <mailbox at grammarphobia.com>wrote:
>> Going forward, please use BC-US--Supreme Court as the starting point
>> for = the stories about the highest court."
> I first heard "going forward", meaning "from now on" when I was working
> for Lehman Bros in 2000, and was very surprised by it.  Has anyone
> traced it?
> --
> Randy Alexander
> Jilin City, China
> My Manchu studies blog:
> http://www.bjshengr.com/manchu

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