I’m not an early adopter of technology and trends, but I’m not a late holdout either. In the ongoing development of the latest thing, I tend to notice its usefulness around the same time as a lot of other people do. I’m relatively conservative in my approach; I haven’t started on with Digg, or Tumblr, or Reddit; I am not a regular habitué of HuffPost or Boing Boing. But a couple of weeks ago I started up a Twitter account, @sesquiotic. And I have to say I have really gotten caught up in the goings-on, the ongoing march-past of facts, fascinations, fancies, and fritterings. I get a lot of good jokes and news clips from it, and updates on things that keep my mind spiralling a bit too late in the night.

One of the tweeters I follow is the Guardian style guide, @guardianstyle. Today @guardianstyle tweeted (among other things) “Can we agree to delete the word ‘ongoing’ whenever & wherever we see it? The writing will be improved & the world will be a happier place.” @guardianstyle’s reason for such an ongoing dislike of ongoing has to do with the typical excrescence of its use: it often adds little – if anything at all – in actual sense, certainly in news reports. (“It’s a meaningless jargon word.” Meaning it’s typically used meaninglessly, not that it is unable to convey meaning.) @guardianstyle is of that set who abhor excrescence and “unnecessary” words. Reasonable enough in the newspaper business.

I, qua word taster, on the other hand (if less so in my editorial day job), get to enjoy words even when they’re just extra icing (or frosting) on the cake; I have no duty of ignoring the aesthetic pleasures of words. While @guardianstyle recommends (and justly so) near to rather than in close proximity for journalistic and similar writing, I get to say “Near to is concise, but in close proximity does a luxurious tapdance on your palate if you have the time.” And ongoing? Any word that makes me think of boing boing (the onomotopoeia, not the site) can’t be all bad. I suppose this will be an ongoing point of difference between us.

It is a funny word, isn’t it? It almost looks like an imitation of chewing with the mouth open: “So he’s sitting there, chewing away with his mouth open and full of food, ‘ong oing ong oing,’ and I’m like, that’s so gross, shut it, OK?” The two g’s in the word remind me of two infinity signs ∞, but rotated 90 degrees and deformed. Hmmm… it’s like zero (o) through any real number (n) to a reckless infinity (g), and then the same but through any imaginary number (if we take in to be i, the original imaginary number – square root of –1 – times n). On the other hand, g also stands for gravity, and o can be the origin of a circle – or the circle itself, of course – but I’m not sure where I’m going with this… Maybe it’s a no go.

The word really divides before, not after, the first g, anyway. It has three morphemes, one per syllable: on+(go+ing). It’s sometimes written with a hyphen after the on. It’s good old Anglo-Saxon, about as English as a word can be. It could be taken for a valediction – something one says on going – but as we know it’s actually not going off, and not even just going on, but continuing forward: on as in onward. The circles and twists, and the springy sound, may suggest a spiral, but it is not a mortal coil – at least its end is not foreseen. This word, like the enjoyment of words, is – to use some common collocations – an ongoing process, an ongoing investigation, an ongoing debate, with ongoing research and ongoing efforts on an ongoing basis. Even if @guardianstyle is shaking the head and saying “Come off it.”

I’m taking a few days away; my ongoing word tasting notes will resume on Tuesday, barring unforeseen eventualities.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s