Going off on ongoing

Ongoingness: a perpetual motion machine. The wheel at the top writes the email, the twisty thing sends it, and the disc on the left reads it and sends a reply to everyone. This process carries on for ever.

When Rev. Philip Gulley was promoting his book “If the Church Were Christian” last year, he complained that the “ongoingness of the institution is all-important.” You could say the book is about the unfortunateness of the ongoingness of churchiness.

Even though ongoing has no reason to exist (telling me that there’s an ongoing discussion gives me no more information than telling me there’s a discussion, for example), it is getting more popular in the press.

It is routinely paired with other problem words to make them even more irritating than they were before: imagine that you’re about to deal a savage redundancies blow to Solihull. The first draft of your statement blames the redundancies on the problems of the economy, but that looks a bit strong. It may be true, it may be accurate, but it is not smooth and reassuring.

Perhaps in the second draft you rename “the economy” as “the current economic climate”, which sounds more reassuring already. You might also downgrade “problems” to “challenges”, but you need one more word that will knock the final hard edge off your statement.

Ongoing is that word. Bingo. A spokesperson for Fujitsu:

This has been necessitated by the ongoing challenges of the current economic climate and the resultant requirement for Fujitsu Telecommunications Europe to scale its operations in line with anticipated business volumes and mix.

Translation: we’re making 140 people redundant. With a weasel word as useful as ongoing, it’s hardly surprising that it is catching on:

But the real growth is found in pairing ongoing with words like challenge, as above. The phrase has increased in frequency by a factor of four since 2002:

Or in turning issues into ongoing issues, a phrase that is now five times as common as it was eight years ago:

There’s hardly a weasel word that you don’t find paired with ongoing. Ongoing is the Cliff Richard of weasel words: on its own, irritating yet pointless; in a duet, borderline dangerous.

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