Work in progress
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Reader question: What does it mean when they say "he's a work in progress"?

My comments:

It means that he's not a finished product – in other words, he's got room for improvement.

The phrase "work in progress" originally refers to a piece of unfinished artwork. When a painter shows an unfinished painting to people, he may call it "a work in process". Or when, for example, you go to see rehearsals1 of a theatre play, the director may call the play "a work in progress".

When James Joyce published the first installments2 of Finnegan's Wake, he put them under the title Work in Progress.

When businesspeople speak of "a work in progress", they are talking about a project in process – they've got the money from investors3 to kick start the project, the project is progressing but there's still a ways to go before investors get their money back – and hopefully with a profit.

When referring to a person, "work in progress" points to similar qualities that person has. Yi Jianlian the basketball player, for example, was variously referred to as a "prospect4" (before he joined the NBA), a "project" (someone worth spending time and money on), and nowadays "a work in progress" with the New Jersey5 Nets.

As "a work in progress", Yi has been making good progress, or as good a progress as can be expected from such a young person. But in many ways he has to still improve before he can hold his own and become a force to be reckoned with in America – he's got to muscle-up, for starters. In other words, he has an enormous upside (potential) but he's far from being a finished product.

In fact, the Nets as a team are "a work in progress" – they've been struggling in recent years and it's asking a lot to expect them to do much better with Yi in the lineup. Not in the short run at any rate.

Anyways, here are two examples of "work in progress" from the media.

1. A fallacy of the news business is the idea that on any given day newspapers deliver the full truth on any given subject.

We don't, and we can't. News is a work in progress and the daily newspaper is not a tablet of stone. As the Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist6 David Broder once wrote: "The newspaper that drops on your doorstep is a partial, hasty, incomplete, inevitably7 somewhat flawed and inaccurate8 rendering9 of some of the things we heard about in the past 24 hours ... it's the best we could do under the circumstances and we will be back tomorrow with a corrected, updated version."

- News remains10 a work in progress,, January 19, 2008.

2. The vision, spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, has taken centuries to fulfill11, and it remains a work in progress. But the four people running for America's top offices today present cause for real celebration, and for eventual12 hope for full realization13 of the American dream.

- Editorial: East Tennessee is McCain country,, October 26, 2008.  


1 rehearsals 58abf70ed0ce2d3ac723eb2d13c1c6b5     
n.练习( rehearsal的名词复数 );排练;复述;重复
  • The earlier protests had just been dress rehearsals for full-scale revolution. 早期的抗议仅仅是大革命开始前的预演。
  • She worked like a demon all through rehearsals. 她每次排演时始终精力过人。 来自《简明英汉词典》
2 installments 7d41ca7af6f495d8e3432f8a4544f253     
部分( installment的名词复数 )
  • The first two installments were pretty close together in 1980. 第一次和节二次提款隔得很近,都是在1980年提的。
  • You have an installments sales contract. 你已经订立了一份分期付款的买卖契约了。
3 investors dffc64354445b947454450e472276b99     
n.投资者,出资者( investor的名词复数 )
  • a con man who bilked investors out of millions of dollars 诈取投资者几百万元的骗子
  • a cash bonanza for investors 投资者的赚钱机会
4 prospect P01zn     
  • This state of things holds out a cheerful prospect.事态呈现出可喜的前景。
  • The prospect became more evident.前景变得更加明朗了。
5 jersey Lp5zzo     
  • He wears a cotton jersey when he plays football.他穿运动衫踢足球。
  • They were dressed alike in blue jersey and knickers.他们穿着一致,都是蓝色的运动衫和灯笼短裤。
6 columnist XwwzUQ     
  • The host was interviewing a local columnist.节目主持人正在同一位当地的专栏作家交谈。
  • She's a columnist for USA Today.她是《今日美国报》的专栏作家。
7 inevitably x7axc     
  • In the way you go on,you are inevitably coming apart.照你们这样下去,毫无疑问是会散伙的。
  • Technological changes will inevitably lead to unemployment.技术变革必然会导致失业。
8 inaccurate D9qx7     
  • The book is both inaccurate and exaggerated.这本书不但不准确,而且夸大其词。
  • She never knows the right time because her watch is inaccurate.她从来不知道准确的时间因为她的表不准。
9 rendering oV5xD     
  • She gave a splendid rendering of Beethoven's piano sonata.她精彩地演奏了贝多芬的钢琴奏鸣曲。
  • His narrative is a super rendering of dialect speech and idiom.他的叙述是方言和土语最成功的运用。
10 remains 1kMzTy     
  • He ate the remains of food hungrily.他狼吞虎咽地吃剩余的食物。
  • The remains of the meal were fed to the dog.残羹剩饭喂狗了。
11 fulfill Qhbxg     
  • If you make a promise you should fulfill it.如果你许诺了,你就要履行你的诺言。
  • This company should be able to fulfill our requirements.这家公司应该能够满足我们的要求。
12 eventual AnLx8     
  • Several schools face eventual closure.几所学校面临最终关闭。
  • Both parties expressed optimism about an eventual solution.双方对问题的最终解决都表示乐观。
13 realization nTwxS     
  • We shall gladly lend every effort in our power toward its realization.我们将乐意为它的实现而竭尽全力。
  • He came to the realization that he would never make a good teacher.他逐渐认识到自己永远不会成为好老师。