How ‘ongoing’ creates an ongoing redundancy

Police officials toss out “ongoing” with a reverence usually reserved for words that actually mean something.

I have no problem with the word in principle. After you’ve heard “ongoing investigation” a few thousand times, though, it fails to provide any information. Saying “an investigation is ongoing” has become the law enforcement equivalent of “no comment” without actually saying “no comment.”

Many reporters don’t seem to understand that, though. Too often, they toss “Police say the investigation is ongoing” at the bottom of a short crime story because they have little else to report. The line adds words but no real meaning.

The example above reminded me of that this week, in part because it took “ongoing investigation” into a new realm of wordiness and redundancy.

Consider: If officers are conducting an investigation, that investigation is ongoing until it’s completed. After that, it’s no longer an investigation.

So “ongoing” not only becomes redundant, but almost comical.

It wouldn’t take much more to give the sentence at least a hint of meaning. For instance:

Sheriff’s officers say they will interview the drivers involved in the wreck, as well as any witnesses, before deciding whether to issue citations.

That’s really standard procedure for most accidents, unless it’s clear that one driver or the other broke the law. Even so, it provides specific information and tells readers what’s really happening without resorting to “ongoing investigation.”

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