Pushing back… or forward?

As someone who earns his living through writing (no, not from this blog), I tend to get hung up on issues of clarity. I rail against buzzwords, and I reject mutations of colloquialisms that suck the original meanings out of them.

Which is not to say I am against the natural evolution of the language. Rather, I am against the degradation of expression – when people say things simply because they’ve heard it said, instead of because it is what they mean.

Because of this flaw in my character, I sometimes have a difficult time with contemporary expressions which may, indeed, make sense, but which clash with my own limited sensibilities. Case in point: the expression “push back” as it refers to time frames.

Example: “The September 15th deadline has been pushed back by a week.” Does that mean the deadline is now September 8? Or is it September 22?

In common usage – at least in my experience – it means the new deadline is September 22, one week later than the original.

That makes no sense to me. Time, as we know it, is linear. It moves forward. If you move an event in time back, it means going backwards. In other words, earlier in time. To move the deadline from September 15 to September 22 is to push it forward – farther ahead in time.

I don’t understand why people don’t get this. I suspect these are the same people who say things like “I could care less” without even blinking at the obvious flaw in logic.

To be fair, “I could care less” is the ironic version of “I could not care less,” but I think the irony is lost on most of the people who use this expression. They just say it because it is what other people say. But I have news for you folks: irony is over. It vanished from the colloquial lexicon almost ten years ago – back when “generation X” grew tired of whining and went out and got jobs.

In the meantime, the deadline to stop saying “pushed back” when you mean to say “pushed forward” has just been pushed back to yesterday. So stop it already!

21 thoughts on “Pushing back… or forward?

  1. I beg to differ. An event in the future can be moved up or pushed back relative to the present. So if it’s pushed back, that means it’s farther away from you, i.e. a week later or whatever. And if it’s moved forward, it’s closer to you, i.e. a week sooner.

  2. Ahem.
    Now you see the kind of argumentation I’m facing on a daily basis.

  3. Heavens to Murgatroyd, young man! I heartily concur. It seems like a combination of functional and cultural illiteracy at work. I’m not going to blame TV, but goshdarn it, you never hear someone who reads real, actual books saying things like “orientated,” now, do you?

    I’ve got to go dig up my Robert Benchley compendium now.

  4. But carl, you’re saying that “pushed back” means it moves ahead (i.e, farther, or forward) in time, yet “moved forward” also means moved ahead in time.

    Your point being that it is relative to the present, and that makes sense. It’s as if I’m sitting in a chair, and there is an empty chair two feet in front of me. If I want to move that chair FARTHER AWAY, then (according to your logic) I would “push it back.” If I want to move it CLOSER I would “move it forward.”

    That doesn’t make sense.

    I think the emphasis should be on “push” and that forward should mean forward (as in, point your finger and that direction means forward) and “back” should mean “backwards,” as in “a RETURN”.

    In that case, moving a deadline from September 15 to September 22 should be stated as “the deadline was PUSHED FORWARD.”

    Moving a deadline from September 15 to September 8 should be stated as “the deadline was MOVED BACK.”

  5. All i can say is:

    “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
    Because their words had forked no lightning they
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
    Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
    And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
    Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    And you, my father, there on the sad height,
    Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    -Dylan Thomas


  6. let’s take that chair a lil further. the chair is being pushed by someone else but in relation to you. you are sitting in your cubicle and you are squeaking slowly towards the other chair. you are moving ‘towards’ your deadline. but then someone listens to you and interposes themselves between you and the chair; then they push the chair back — further away from you. Your deadline is further away now. It has been pushed back.

    Now is there a concurrent analogy for deadlines getting closer? I dunno…

  7. It seems to me the problem originates with inventing jargon. Why replace ‘delayed’ or ‘postponed’ or ‘rescheduled’ with “pushed back”, anyway? The English language abounds with words that stand for most of this elaboration; why don’t we all refer to our dictionaries and thesauruses (yes, that is the plural), and make ourselves perfectly clear?

  8. Now if two chairs leave an office moving in opposite directions, and one is traveling at 43 km/hr and the other one at 57 km/hr, do they make a sound?

  9. Okay, query me this: if someone is my worst enemy, does that make them my best friend? I mean, they offset each other, don’t they?

  10. Of course. Which is why you should say the person is your greatest enemy (unless he is, in fact, your best friend).

  11. I think the term, “pushing the dealine back” makes
    perfect sense. But then, I’m not seeing it in
    terms of time, but other common situations.

    You’re in line, get to the front and are told
    you need to fill out another form. So you get
    pushed to the back of the line. When it’s your
    turn again, it is indeed later in time.

    For that matter, if someone pushes ahead of
    you in that line, you get pushed back further
    from the front. And so you will arrive at
    the front later than if you hadn’t been pushed


  12. But michael, in your example, it is YOU, not the TARGET that is getting pushed.

    All this disagreement underscores my point–there is abiguity. Like Empey says, we should use simple, direct, non-ambiguous terms.

  13. Blork, are you serious? You really want “simple, direct, non-ambiguous terms”? How boring is that?
    Where would be the wit, the double-entendres, the poetry inherent in any language. Gone would be the writings of Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, etc., etc.
    I’m sorry, but you’ve totally lost yourself in the dark side.

  14. hi… are you reachable? i’m interested in your comments on the great antonio… i am writing an obituary on him…

  15. Michael, I’m totally serious. Wit, double-entendres, and poetry don’t really belong in the boardroom, unfortunately. I’m not talking about removing those things from daily life and from art (the two are intertwined, in my opinion). I’m talking about when you’re TRYING to be clear and concise. When you’re in a meeting, or discussing deadlines. If someone says “HEY THE DEADLINE HAS BEEN PUSHED BACK A WEEK” and then hangs up, half the people will relax because they have an extra week and the other half will panic because they’ve lost a week.

    Screw that. Say what you mean.

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