Nobody Makes “Bad Progress”

By Maeve Maddox

Three times during a radio interview, a White House spokesman stated that something was “making good progress.”

It occurred to me how often I hear the expression “good progress” uttered by politicians and administrators of various stripes.

We are making good progress towards introducing a bill that will advance that goal.—A US senator.

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan acknowledged that [our state] is making good progress on our Race to the Top plans.—A state governor.

We have been making good progress in three important areas.—A school principal.

FTA is making good progress on developing more detailed guidance on which we will seek comment in the near future.—An FTA spokesman.

The word progress, both noun and verb, derives from the Latin verb progredi: “to go forward, proceed, advance.”

The English noun progress is defined as “the process of a series of actions through time.”

As a verb, progress means, “to proceed, advance,” “to follow an expected course or pattern.”

“Good progress” is bureaucratic-speak. It sounds good without meaning anything. It’s enough to say, “The FTA is making progress on developing more detailed guidance.”

Progress may be rapid, slow, encouraging, delayed, or uncertain, but to say it is good is to pad language. “Good progress” is often accompanied by other meaningless phrases like “in the near future,” and “grounds for optimism.”

Ordinary speakers may be forgiven for using the occasional cliché, but politicians and others who wish to advance themselves by swaying public opinion should be aware that coming from them, “good progress” signals a desire to avoid specifics.

Note: The pronunciation of progress differs, according to whether it is used as a noun or as a verb.

progress (noun): PRAH-gres (American); PRO-gres (British)

progress (verb): pruh-GRES

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8 Responses to “Nobody Makes “Bad Progress””

  • ApK

    Meh. I hear “good progress” I think “an amount of progress equal to or greater than what’s needed or expected. I find nothing wrong with it.

  • Catriona

    I disagree. “Good progress” is something to be proud of; just “progress” might be barely observable and even hints at a struggle to move forward inch by inch. The sort of thing you see on a school report when the child is way behind all the other kids but is not as bad as this time last year.
    “Progress” might mean ‘just started’, whereas “good progress” can mean somewhere towards ‘nearly finished’.

  • Nora Miller (@nmillaz)

    I disagree as well. Maybe nobody makes “bad progress”, but plenty of people and projects make “poor progress.” Making progress signals something positive, but without any indication of how much. Making good progress signals that we have met some milestone or accomplished significant steps in the process. I do agree that it is overused and underspecific, but it is not wrong as long as we have situations where we might have to admit to making poor progress.

  • AnWulf

    I too must disagree, “good progress” makes sense to me and I don’t see how “good” is any worse than “uncertain” which you seem to bless.

    BTW, there’s nothing wrong with “the near future” either.

  • venqax

    If progress alone is not assumed to have any positive of negative connotation, but simply movement toward a destination of some sort, then I guess there would be bad progress as opposed to good– slow, torturous, painful– are all just more expressive words for “bad” in general. The fact that we use good progress as a phrase but not bad progress might then just be idiomatic. But I think progress to most implies beneficial movement (which is why some find the political use of progressive to be counterintuitive, but that’s a different story). The definitions cited above, however, don’t really support that assumption.

    “BTW, there’s nothing wrong with “the near future” either.”
    I wish I shared your confidence.

  • Yorick

    Personally I feel that if you want to specify how much progress you are making you can use a better description than “good”. Good is just vague – hence its overuse by politicians. If you are making a lot of progress say “a lot of progress” or “great progress”, saying “good progress” to me is a political way of saying slightly more than none at all.

  • Deepti

    I thought ‘good’ is an adjective that indicates/measures progress against the planned pace, so as to mean that the subject is advancing better than what was planned. For me, this makes sense. Looking forward to any thoughts…

  • venqax

    @Yorick: I think you point is a good one. The construction “good progress” doesn’t strike me as wrong, or as necessarily redundant, but as rather empty or “padded” as Maeve says.

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