In English, ambition isn’t always purely about positive goals. There can be overtones of being hell-bent on achieving them at the expense of others: being greedy, self-serving and unscrupulous.

Setting the bar high isn’t a bad thing, of course. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the best (whether you’re a person or an anthropomorphized company). It’s perfectly OK to use the word. But…

  • if you’re talking about aims, goals and targets, then why not use those terms? Avoid the emotional charge.
  • particularly when referring to someone’s personality traits, keep in mind that there can be negative harmonics to being ambitious (perhaps more so in EN-UK)
  • an ambitious plan can also be a good spin-doctor word for “unrealistic”, especially after the event

Real-world deadlines and an urgent rush for a job that had escaped the strictures of my planning system (yup, we all do it) meant that I didn’t manage a post on Friday. Sorry about that! But back online now.

Prevalence: moderate. Another good ‘Eurospeak’ word that has equivalents in other languages. Occurs in all kinds of texts.
Frequency: moderate. Literal translation used almost every time.
Native: yes. Usage is changing and you’ll certainly hear politicians and the like touting their government’s ambitions. Still grates a bit with me, though.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

One thought on “Ambition

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