From 'Vocabulary' part of The ABC Of Plain Words by Sir E Gowers (1951)

Of all the words that have been called on to help in the restoration of our balance of trade, target has been the most in demand. No doubt it was chosen as a vivid means of denoting something for which our existing vocabulary provided only dull words like objective or aim. There is no uplift in inciting an industry to "attain its objective". Goal was a possible alternative, but not so picturesque. And if target was to have a11 the stimulating force it was capable of, it would not do to treat it as a live metaphor, and exhort people to do nothing more exciting or enterprising than merely to hit it. So we were offered a great variety of things that we might meritoriously do to our targets. We might reach them, achieve them, attain them or obtain them; we were to feel greatly encouraged if we came in sight of the target to which we were trying to do whatever we were trying to do, and correspondingly depressed if we found ourselves either a long way behind it or (what apparently amounts to the same thing) a long way short of it. On the other hand it would be splendid to be a long way beyond it. Above all we must not mistake a target for a ceiling, but must realise that it was a platform from which to climb.

At first this caused some perplexity, and even evoked some ribaldry among old-fashioned people who thought of a target as something to be hit, as nearly as possible in the middle, by a missile of some sort, and as of not much use for any other purpose. But we are past all that now. Target, as part of our post-war economic jargon, is a dead metaphor; we may use with it any verb that we might use with objective, and our jokes have become pedantry.

But we ought not to be tried too hard. A lecturer has recorded that, when he read in a speech by one of our ministers of a "global target" which, to the minister's regret, could not be "broken down", the picture that came into his mind was of a drunken reveller attacking a Belisha Beacon. When we are told that the target has been doubled it still needs a little mental adjustment to realise that it will present a task twice as difficult, not, as one might have thought, twice as easy. And we cannot help being momentarily puzzled on finding that a warning by the Prime Minister that a dock strike was "imperilling the possibility of obtaining our six months' export target" is given a headline "ATTLEE SAYS EXPORT TARGET HIT". (See also Breakdown, Global and Metaphor.

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