Why use two words when one will do? Time for ‘before’ to make a comeback
Who would have thought the humble old word “before” would become an endangered species? So far as I know, it has never done anyone any harm.
But the craze for writing “ahead of”, to describe any forthcoming event, whether far in the future or imminent, has made coming across “before” in a newspaper about as likely as bumping into a recent recruit to the Nick Clegg fan club.
Here are just a few recent examples:
“Ahead of the Christmas No 1 announcement on Sunday, readers define the perfect seasonal hit.”
“Speaking at a press conference ahead of his 80th birthday, Gorbachev criticised Putin for manipulating elections.”
“Talking to Simon Rattle ahead of his London residency with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra … ”
“University candidates are racing to submit their applications ahead of the tripling of tuition fees from autumn 2012.”
“Ahead of his heavyweight title fight against Audley Harrison later this month, David Haye has said that he is ‘going to be a movie star’ … The WBA champion reckons that ‘it would be crazy to try to mix the two’ ahead of his big fights over the next 12 months.”
“The wives and girlfriends … were flown in ahead of the third Test in Perth. Result: a couple of batting collapses.”
“Everton’s fourth successive win at Eastlands, achieved despite them having Victor Anichebe dismissed on the hour and Tevez handing City a huge fillip ahead of kick-off … ”
“Comolli, who resigned as sporting director at St Etienne ahead of yesterday’s announcement … ”
“Instead of offensive claptrap being spouted ahead of David Haye’s forthcoming dust-up with Audley Harrison … ”
“He’s first and foremost a tough bloke,” said Flower ahead of last year’s tour of Bangladesh, when Cook stood in for the resting Strauss as captain.”
“Ahead of the vote they face this evening, Liberal Democrat MPs will today be reflecting on the less-than-merry dance by which their leaders have come to ask them to walk ‘through the fire’.” (in a leading article)
“Why else would they hurriedly concoct their own ‘Confucius peace prize’, a day ahead of the ceremony in Oslo?” (in the second leading article, on the same day)
“That was how I found myself surrounded by the likes of Greg Dyke, Rob Brydon and Badly Drawn Boy at a BFI reception for Springsteen ahead of a screening of his new documentary The Promise.”
These examples are all from the Guardian and, I assure you, were not hard to find. But “ahead of” mania has gripped all newspapers and is heard more and more frequently on the BBC and other broadcasters.
I’m all for what has been described as “elegant variation” in writing. I’m not saying that “ahead of” should never be used as a variant of “before” or “in advance of”.
But I’d argue that in just about every example listed above, “before” would read better than “ahead of”. In some cases, such as the two leading articles, “ahead of” sounds not just cliched and ugly, but plain wrong. It also seems particularly inappropriate for an event, such as the Springsteen reception, that took place immediately – how I shall I put this? – BEFORE the screening.
As for my colleagues in the sports department, they appear to have developed such an aversion to “before” that one can only conclude someone has removed the B and R from their keyboards.
Buzz words and phrases spread very quickly from writer to writer, probably unconsciously. They can fade away as quickly, although some (“iconic”) can prove very resilient. So why use two words when one will do? It’s time for “before” to make a comeback – before it disappears altogether.