• Matthew Laight


Updated: Nov 24, 2021

"Qu'est-ce qu'un blog, Monsieur? "

This stirring image by Édouard Detaille (a very apposite surname for an artist, don't you think?) depicts the French Hussars being led into battle against the Russian army at Friedland (now called Pravdinsk, just east of Gdańsk but inside the Russian border). The painting is called "Vive l'Empereur!", which is a fitting title, but it would have suited my post more had it been called "En avant! " or "Forward!", but M. Detaille was not to know, or care, of my trivial needs 130 years after finishing his Napoleonic masterpiece ("Qu'est-ce qu'un blog, Monsieur? ").

"Vive l'Empereur!" (1891) by the French artist, Édouard Detaille depicting the charge of the French 4th Hussars at the Battle of Friedland, 14th June 1807.

But if you'll humour me just enough that I can weave in the notion that we proceed by pretending that the Hussar's battle cry is "Forward!", it will allow me to pose the question why 'forward' and not 'forwards'? Well, there's a rule! Usually I turn to either Messrs Fowler or Partridge for solutions to these little conundrums. In this case, though, the estimable Mr Partridge gives much the more entertaining explanation, if for no other reason than his deferential nod to The O.E.D. for providing, as he put it, "the following masterly verdict". I can do no better, then, to similarly defer. The following is taken from Usage and Abusage*:

[forward and forwards. Forwards is an adverb only; forward, both an adverb and an adjective. The distinction is that the latter expresses a definite direction viewed in contrast with other directions. In some contexts either form may be used without perceptible difference of meaning; the following are examples in which only one of them can be used: "The ratchet-wheel can move only forwards"; "the right side of the paper has the maker's name reading forwards"; "my companion has gone forward "; "to bring a matter forward ". The military order is '(forward,) march'.]

So there you have it; forward and forwards in a nutshell. It seems a logical extension, by the way, at least to my way of thinking to apply much the same rule for toward and towards; "she turned towards me"; "the argument was almost over, the protagonists had moved toward a settlement", what do you think?

Now, as we move toward the end of this post, I want to go off topic in order to share with you this wonderful snippet that I came across while reading Martin Amis's Inside Story. He cites, for my money, one of the best crossword clues you'll ever encounter. I'll just give it to you straight:

meaningful power of attorney (11) -- see the foot of this page for the answer.

Until the next time ...

* Usage and Abusage by Eric Partridge (new and revised ed. 1965), page 122.


Clue: meaningful power of attorney (11)

Answer: significant (sign-if-I-cant)

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