Urgency, Exigency, and Moonshots

By Maeve Maddox

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A reader asks:

Can you explain clearly the difference between urgency and exigency? Thank you. Also, any thoughts on the concept or process of “moonshoot”? Heard the term when President Biden was talking about cancer.

The nouns urgency and exigency are not synonyms, but they are related in thought.

Exigency
An exigency is an urgent need or unforeseen calamity. Anything, ranging from a wildfire to a car breakdown is an exigency: a situation that calls for immediate action to set things to rights.

Exigencies can be chronic. People living in poverty have daily exigencies relating to food and shelter. School districts must weigh the exigency of plant maintenance costs against hiring needs.

Here are some usage examples from the fraze.it site:

In determining exigency, the board should consider the degree of urgency involved.

This will have a posting if the event is delayed due to weather or other exigency.

Analysts note that the ideological volte-face is a matter of exigency, rather than conviction.

They were there, crammed in but alive, disciplined by exigency to subsist on tiny rations of tuna, biscuits and sips of milk.

Fort Bend ISD is one of several districts this year to declare financial exigency, a move that allows the elimination of jobs.

Urgency
Urgency—the perceived need for immediate action—is often in the eye of the beholder.

The urgency required following a disaster, like a flood, is apparent to everyone. Urgency to act to prevent disaster, on the other hand, is not necessarily felt by everyone.

From marketing experts to environmentalists, millions of words are expended daily in an effort to prompt people to feel a sense of urgency about one thing or another.

Here are some usage examples:

Emphasizing a sense of urgency, the department issued its own standards Nov. 18.

That is no bad thing since a sense of urgency is a fitting response to a crisis.

His next job was to instill his staff with an urgency about the need for change.

He said a new U.S. Treasury Department report conveys the urgency of the problem.

Moonshoot
President Biden was talking about the updating of the Cancer Moonshot (not moonshoot), a research program initially funded in 2016 with the goal of finding a cure for cancer. One of the updated goals is to reduce the cancer death rate by half within 25 years.

He introduced these remarks by referring to President Kennedy’s 1962 announcement of US plans to send a man to the moon. Kennedy said the exploit was being undertaken

not because [it was] easy, but because [it was] hard, because [the] goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, “one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

President Biden regards the effort to improve the lives of cancer patients as significant as the national push to achieve a moon landing.

The expression “to shoot for the moon” has been around at least since 1911, with the meaning, “to set one’s goals or ambitions very high; to try to attain or achieve something particularly difficult.”

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