The ongoing standoff between …
The ongoing debate over ....
The ongoing discussion about …
See anything in common in those three sentence fragments?
What did you say? Your thought process is ongoing ...
Yes, they would all be much stronger without the word ongoing.
According to Merriam-Webster, ongoing first appeared in print in 1877. Other now-familiar words also showed up that year, including dude, coffee table, and stock option.
I was surprised to see that ongoing is such an old word. (Mind you, who knew people were throwing around the word dude in the late 1800s?)
Ongoing has only really gained popularity for the past 15 years or so. I’m serious. Look at any government press release. Check any company’s spokesperson’s statement. Pull up the news headlines. I can almost guarantee you’ll find the word ongoing.
Why is it so popular?
I think it all comes down to fear. It sounds like a modern word of action, of something happening. It sounds like a good thing to pad your sentence with so that it’s full of fancy words — even if you don’t know what you’re talking about.
But when you stop to think about it, what does ongoing mean?
It means going on or continuing. It was obviously created by some smarty pants who put go and on together … and then patted themselves on the back for their ongoing brilliance.*
Now, start looking at the words you find around it. Here’s a sampling from Google News search results for ongoing:
Community activists sue Big Island dairy over ongoing pollution
Macedonia to extend state of crisis due to ongoing flow of migrants
Anger overflows over ongoing water crisis
You could slash ongoing from each of those sentences and they would all improve.
Yes, you could say that it’s important for the first sentence to note that the pollution wasn’t in the past and continues today. But what’s wrong with the word continue? Why don’t people like it? I would argue that continuing is a better adjective and continue is a better verb than ongoing.
Finally, notice that ongoing often bumps up against words that already imply movement. A debate by its very nature isn’t settled. Neither is a standoff or a flow of migrants. If a discussion were finished, it would be a decision. A crisis is a crisis because it is happening now.
What do you think? Is ongoing overused today?
I say: slash it!
*I’ve never loved using verbs and prepositions to make new adjectives. Instead of hearing The rain is pouring down, I now hear It’s downpouring. And politicians don’t knock on doors anymore; they go doorknocking. I shudder.