30-Second Word Whoop: “Following”

Following the leader: A game for Gummys.

An editor’s pet peeve — is it just me? or do I have followers? — is the use of the word “following” when “after” would suffice. It’s like using “occurred” in place of “happened” and don’t even get me started on its evil cousin “prior to.” Pretentious, right?

Some say you use “following” to express immediately after, as opposed to “after,” which could mean anytime after. It follows, then, on an invitation to say: “Join us for a reception following the show.”

But that’s precisely my point. Why not say “after the show?” Seems more friendly, like.

The “immediately after” argument is not so precise, anyway. “Following” is no more or less precise a time stamp than “after.” It only takes MORE time to type, read or say — which might make you late for a very important date.

“Following” and “after” are in no way synonyms. See the following list of exceptions. He phoned her the following day. They both mean what comes immediately after, yet you cannot substitute “after” in these examples.

Because I’m a leading authority

Following my logic, if you can substitute “after” where you see “following,” you may be guilty of verbosity. Following her realization that she was insane, she extracted all four impacted wisdom teeth at age 40, which impacted her poorly. Possibly the worst sentence ever written. Don’t you wish you could have those four seconds back?

My trick: Think of the verb “to follow” and “pursue” at once — and apply the word “following” when something truly “ensues.” Just a guide, and a silly mnemonic, but we editors depend on those to stay on track.

I hereby issue the following decree: In these days of blogging and tweeting and following those who do — and who doesn’t prefer communication’s short form?  — best take time for afterthought before committing to “following.”

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About Terry Byrne

Writer-editor with deep reservations about holding her tongue. Fan of both nature and nurture. Lifelong fascination with gender studies, sexuality, music and brainpower.

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