Jeremy Butterfield

Making words work for you

At this moment in time

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At this moment in time

This phrase—or cliché, depending on your prejudices—is widely ridiculed and reviled, and comes high on people’s list of pet hates. In a survey as part of marketing my bookie wookie, Damp Squid, people ranked it the fourth most irritating phrase.

(‘Which came top?’ I hear you ask: it was ‘at the end of the day’.)

moment-in-time

A bugbear is born

The phrase has been around for over four decades. The first example in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is from a Collins Crime Club novel of 1972:

What can we actually do to help at this moment in time?

Since then its rise to infamy (if something can rise to infamy) has been steady rather than meteoric, but now it is firmly established.

A ghastly tautology?

One main objection to it is that it says the same thing twice: moments are part of time, so in that sense it is a tautology.

I think it goes without saying that when used instead of a simple ‘now’ it is also long-winded and unnecessary, as in this example from a magazine:

So how and where is Pete at this moment in time?

In official or business contexts it typifies the bombastic wordiness which in his Complete Plain Words Sir Ernest Gowers labelled ‘pompo-verbosity’:

A spokesman for PIAB said: ‘Unfortunately, we are not releasing any statistical information just yet and therefore I regret I cannot give you any meaningful statistics at this moment in time’.

BBC News, Business, 2004

worldclocks

Avoid like the plague?

But is it to be avoided in all situations? Possibly not. For instance, often it does not stand in for a simple ‘now’, but rather for more emphatic phrases such as ‘at the moment, at present’, in which case its wordiness may be more pardonable:

Well at this moment in time you are definitely going about it the wrong way.
BBC News, Business, 2004.

Moreover, it can be a useful emphasizing device, suggesting the flow of time in a way that ‘now’ cannot; suggesting, in fact, that while things are the way they are currently, they may well change:

I’m afraid there’s no prospect of anything just at this moment in time.
Ruth Rendell, 1986

But, I do want a husband and kids. But not right now, I don’t want to be distracted at this moment in time.

Jet Magazine, 2003

In narratives of events

Apart from its emphasizing role, at this moment in time also highlights a particular moment in narratives:

There were five similar [flak] towers..but at this moment in time, they were only of passing interest.
OED example

big_wave_surfing_1

Of course, even in that example, it could be shortened too to ‘at that moment’ or ‘just then’, as it could in the next:

When the face [of a wave] is very steep, nearly vertical, it is referred to as a wall, since at this moment in time it is a wall of water.

Paddles Magazine, 1996

What are the alternatives?

times-arrow

The fact remains, though, that many people detest the phrase under any circumstances, so it is as well to avoid it in any kind of serious writing. English is so rich in synonyms: it seems a waste not use them to the full, e.g. at the moment, at present, currently, just now, and so forth.

About Jeremy Butterfield

www.jeremybutterfield.com

Published author, wordsmith, copywriter, editor and lover of words.

I provide web copywriting, marketing copywriting, and editing services in the Southwest of England, including

Bristol, Bath, Avon, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Devon, Somerset, and Dorset.

You can find me on Twitter @jembutterfield

It would be great to have some more likes on my Facebook page as well.

http://www.facebook.com/jembutterfield?ref=hl

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Author: Jeremy Butterfield

Editor of Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Writer, wordsmith, copywriter, copy-editor and lover of words. I provide editing, web copywriting, and marketing copywriting services in the Central Belt of Scotland, including Stirling, Glasgow, Edinburgh and surrounding areas, as well as throughout the UK. You can find me on Twitter @JezzB2.

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