Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Gone Ahead and Loaded

Posted by Neal on April 15, 2011

One Sunday morning, Doug finished his waffles and bacon, and began to clear his dishes. As it happened, I had just finished taking the clean dishes out of the dishwasher a few minutes earlier, so I figured Doug could go ahead and load his dirty dishes in there.

That’s right, go ahead and load his dirty dishes. Here and there I’ve heard complaints about the go ahead and locution, on the grounds that it adds unnecessary extra words. The one I saw most recently was from one of Grammar Girl’s listeners, who was quoted in this episode on wordiness and idioms. My opinion is that these words do add some extra meaning. Dave Wilton, author of Word Myths, agreed, writing in a comment on Grammar Girl’s website,

In the case of “go ahead and…” the extra words, depending on the context, emphasize intentionality, emphasize futurity, and the imply that the action is going to be taken without further notice or permission.

The subject also came up in this 1996 thread on alt.usage.english, where Lee Jones wrote,

I think it’s a subtle attempt to imply that the speaker is/was moving the state of things forward.

The connotation I’ve picked up from it is that the action is one that some might think is premature or risky, and go ahead and means, “decide that we have sufficiently considered the risks and can now take action.” My wife likes to use it when she’s talking about spending some money on something expensive. The trouble, and this is where the complainers have a point, is that many people don’t pick up that nuance, and for them, go ahead and really is just three words that don’t add anything.

So anyway, I figured Doug could go ahead and put his dishes in the dishwasher. I gestured to them and said,

The dishwasher’s empty, so those can be gone ahead and loaded.

Be gone ahead and loaded? Where did I get that? I realized that although go ahead and do it can be put into the past tense (went ahead and did it), there really isn’t a good way to put it in the passive voice. I went with putting both go ahead and load into the passive voice, even though it makes no sense to put go ahead into the passive voice by itself, as in *it was gone ahead. Another option to try would have been to put just load in the passive voice, but that sounds pretty bad too:

… *so those can be go ahead and loaded.

So I ended up with gone ahead and loaded. Meanwhile, Doug was going ahead and loading his dishes, and it occurred to me that I could have cut him some slack. This was the morning that he had gotten up on his own instead of being shaken awake at 10:00 or later, had done his homework before having breakfast without my even knowing he was out of bed, and cooking that bacon and toasting that waffle all on his own. All that responsibility-taking, and all I could say was, “Those can be gone ahead and loaded”? I should have just let him leave his dishes on the counter like usual.

Besides, when anyone but me loads the dishwasher, they do it wrong, and I have to take out the dishes and reload them.

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11 Responses to “Gone Ahead and Loaded”

  1. Ben Zimmer said

    When I hear “go ahead and…” used extraneously, I can’t help thinking of smarmy Bill Lumbergh in the movie Office Space: “Milt, we’re gonna need to go ahead and move you downstairs into storage B.” “Aahh, now, are you going to go ahead and have those TPS reports for us this afternoon?” “I’m also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday too, kay.” But even Lumbergh never attempted to passivize it.

    • MBM said

      I’m glad I’m not alone. Ever since I’ve seen that movie, I can’t say or hear “go ahead and…” without thinking of that obnoxious Lumbergh guy!

    • Neal said

      I can’t believe I forgot about that movie. Lumbergh is a perfect example of someone who doesn’t get the nuance of go ahead and, and ends up using it with ridiculous main verbs.

  2. agladman said

    I don’t think you can put the whole phrase into the passive voice. It feels like you end up conflating the subject and the object if you try. You’re going ahead and loading the dishes; the dishes are being loaded but they’re not going ahead.

    It’s almost like the action is broken into two subtle parts, the ‘going ahead and’ followed by the action itself. The ‘going ahead and’ being a sloughing off of doubt, uncertainty, procrastination, whatever, and committing to performing the action itself without further delay. It’s that action-itself part that can be translated into the passive voice.

    …or at least that’s how it is to my ear. What do you think?

  3. To my ear, “go ahead and” sounds like permission to do something or now is the time to do it–or, as you say, “decide that we have sufficiently considered the risks and can now take action.” I wouldn’t use it in my writing, and I’d probably edit it out of others’ work. If the intended meaning is “now is the time” or permission, I’d try to write that more directly. But in speech, I use the phrase all the time, especially with my kids. (It’s good to know that at some point they might actually cook for themselves and put the dishes away!)

  4. David Craig said

    … so those can go ahead and be loaded.

  5. The Ridger said

    “… be loaded already.”

    To me, there’s a huge difference between “you can do that” and “you can go ahead and do that”, and an even bigger one between “I did that” and “I went ahead and did that.” I would vigorously resist any attempt to correct me, although in writing – depending on what precisely I was writing – I might agree to “took the initiative and”, “stopped waiting and” or “didn’t bother to ask and”.

  6. Glen said

    No way, man. I think Wilton is right in saying the “go ahead and” construction connotes intentionality. But passive voice by its nature cuts out the agent, and hence intentionality as well.

    • Ran said

      > But passive voice by its nature cuts out the agent, and hence intentionality as well.

      I don’t know. I don’t see a problem with any of these sentences:

      > Do you have any proof that it was done intentionally?
      > Some folks are saying this “slip” was made on purpose, and perhaps it was, who knows?
      > […] it did not necessarily find that his act was committed with malice aforethought.
      > […] and a “secret-weapon-to-save-the-day” gimmick that was lifted without so much as a by-your-leave from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.

      (all c/o Google).

  7. Philip Whitman said

    Usually when I use or hear “go ahead and” do something, I mean or understand it to mean that the action may now be taken without further notice or permission. In fact, I view it as a kind or permission or even a subtle command, a statement that everything is ready to go and I should get on with the job. For example, we “just got the go ahead (approval) to proceed with this project.”

  8. Neal said

    To Agladman, David Craig, Glen, Ran:

    Right: The go ahead part can only be done by a sentient agent, so when you say “The dishes can go ahead and…”, it sounds weird. Similarly for the even stranger sounding “The dishes can be gone ahead and….” When you put something in the passive voice, you don’t express the agent, but it’s still understood that there is one. That’s why you don’t say, “My ice cream was being melted” when it’s just happening because of the ambient temperature; you’d say that if someone were consciously melting it.

    I think my trouble is that in my mind, the go ahead and construction is becoming like a serial verb construction, kind of like go jump in the lake or come fly with me. That’s why, when I was not thinking too hard about it, the verbs tried to meld into one, and I then tried to take the direct object of this fused verb and turn it into the subject in a passive sentence.

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