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"[company name] is a company of specialists who ebb toward new and innovative technologies.."

I'd like to use the word ebb in the above sentence, although the dictionary tells me that it has negative connotations "a point or condition of decline".

So my question is, does the word ebb have negative connotations, and can I use a preposition ebb toward as a way to direct its connotation?

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If something ebbs, it's usually from something else: a shoreline, for example. –  Robusto Jul 31 '12 at 12:38
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@Robusto I found plenty of ebbing towards things in Google Books. I think it just means going flowing down, and stuff can flow down towards some destination. –  tchrist Jul 31 '12 at 12:45
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@tchrist: Of course there will be other cases. I'm just saying that the usual perspective is from "the shore" (whether literal or figurative). Ebb goes out, flow comes in. –  Robusto Jul 31 '12 at 12:50
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This was the reason behind my asking, as I searched for examples of its usage and came across quite a few postfixed with the word toward. –  StuR Jul 31 '12 at 12:55
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You don't want a company to 'ebb'. That is not an auspicious usage. If the company was slowly cutting back, 'ebb' would be perfect as metaphorical usage. TL;DR. DOn't use 'ebb', but if you do, use 'ebb from'. or 'ebb away from' –  Mitch Jul 31 '12 at 13:38

6 Answers 6

up vote 4 down vote accepted

You may use ebb toward or towards, but it is especially not common. The NY Times has this example:

  • As the last nights of summer ebb toward autumn, folding chairs and picnic blankets blossom under a canopy of leaves in the garden of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.

Here are more Google Books results:

  • And Aaron felt his life ebb towards her. [DH Lawrence]
  • ... the telltale blood which had begun to ebb towards her heart rushing again tumultuously to her very temples. [JF Cooper]
  • Logically, the tide would flood in to high water, and then immediately turn and ebb towards low water.
  • On the west side of Ireland the tide flows against the land, and the ebb falls back from it into the sea; the flood tide going from, and the ebb towards the west.
  • The tides in the Whitsundays Flood towards the South and Ebb towards the North.
  • ... I soon had the tide against me from the other Kill until I passed the Rahway River, when it commenced to ebb towards Raritan Bay.

Some instances are unrelated, for example, another Google Books result gives:

The emphasis on the question of Romanian unity in the Middle Ages, or rather political division (the reverse side of the same logic), saw a pronounced ebb towards the end of the nineteenth century.

In the last example, it is mere circumstance that have collocated the two words.

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2  
The DH Lawrence quote is interesting. It's practically an oxymoron. –  Andrew Leach Jul 31 '12 at 12:58
    
[company name] is a company of specialists with a pronounced ebb towards new and innovative tech - It feels like I'm not going to make this one work.. I found your answer the most helpful however. Thanks. –  StuR Jul 31 '12 at 16:34
    
@StuR No, I don’t think you will be able to make it work because of the recessional connotation of ebbing. –  tchrist Jul 31 '12 at 16:43
    
@AndrewLeach Perhaps the narrative context would explain why it isn’t actually an oxymoron (just guessing). –  tchrist Jul 31 '12 at 16:44

Ebb generally means "retreat" or "decline" (as in ebb tide). So you can ebb towards something, but it's usually towards something which is worse than at present.

The Church is ebbing towards irrelevance.

It seems you actually want exactly the opposite. Normally that's flow (as in ebb and flow), but that only works in tidal or similar situations.

You need something active and enthusiastic here, surely?

[company name] is a company of specialists who embrace new and innovative technologies...

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I'm trying to find a middle ground - I'd like to convey that whilst they are specialists in their chosen subject they are susceptible to change and flow between new and old technologies, fit for the purpose. That was why I looked at ebb and flow. –  StuR Jul 31 '12 at 16:25
    
@StuR "who investigate and use new and innovative technologies..."? –  Andrew Leach Jul 31 '12 at 17:35

If you are trying to connote a very gradual movement or improvement try inch:

"[company name] is a company of specialists who inch toward new and innovative technologies.."

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As with other answers, ebb means "retreat", but it is possible to "ebb towards" because it is possible to retreat towards. There is always the question there of what it is ebbing away from, and the very use of the world poses that question.

"[company name] is a company of specialists who ebb toward new and innovative technologies.."

The question here is what are they retreating from? Old and Proven technologies? Dated and Reliable technologies? However you put it, there is a negative connotation, because the word "ebb" carries this with it. A better choice would be:

"[company name] is a company of specialists who drive towards toward new and innovative technologies.."

or some similar type of construct, with the focus on the positives of the new and innovative, not on the negatives of what they are retreating from.

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Apart from receding and declining, ebb suggests waning power. It appears to be in confilct with the idea of moving towards new technology etc., which suggests gathering strength.

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Yes, ebb has negative connotations. It will have them with any preposition. The definition of ebb is to "gradually lessen or reduce". It comes from its other definition: "(of tidewater) move away from the land; recede". So, whatever preposition you put after it, it will have negative connotations. "Ebb toward" doesn't even make sense because ebbing is a motion away from oneself.

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