Don't follow the crowd

I’m worried that the word ‘after’ will soon be extinct. I don’t know if it’s that writers have suddenly developed a mistrust of the word – or if I’ve just become attuned to their increasing preference for the cumbersome ‘following’. Either way, I feel a need to launch a campaign to defend this simple, useful word against its imminent expulsion from the English language.

My daily read of the FT has become fraught with painful expectation of seeing the word ‘following’ take the place of ‘after’ – an expectation that is invariably fulfilled. Witness this example, from today’s top story:

‘Mr King also told the BBC it would take ‘several months’ before banks returned to normal following the collapse of the US subprime mortgage market.’

Or this, also from today’s paper: ‘Qatar's reputation knocked following surprise exit.’

In this instance it’s possible that the sub-editor had a space on the page that ‘after’ was too short to fill, but one would hardly recommend modelling one's use of English on the frequently mangled syntax of headline writers, would one?

It’s not just the FT. I noticed a similar use of ‘following’ on the Today programme this morning, and it’s always creeping up in the corporate documents I’m asked to edit (which makes me wonder if journalists have picked the habit up from the business world).

So if you want to instantly improve a piece of copy, run a global change that replaces ‘following’ with ‘after’ wherever possible (and while you’re at it, do the same for ‘subsequently’ and ‘further to’).

And if you’re impressed with the difference that’s made, why not replace every ‘prior to’, ‘previous’ and ‘in advance of’ with the similarly endangered ‘before’?