24 March 2010

Around About Way of Speaking

In my job I read a lot of policy documents and listen to presentations by public servants, experts and professionals.  Most of the time these are informative and essential for me to understand developments in the disability and nonprofit sectors.  Recently I have started to notice an expression that drives me absolutely bonkers; why do people say `around' when they mean `about' or `with'?

Maybe I'm just picky.  Maybe I take this all too much to heart.  I admit to becoming infuriated when I see the Grocer's Apostrope, where signs incorrectly indicate a plural with an apostrophe.  You know - "Apple's only $2" - as if the apple is down to it's last couple of bucks.  I'm not about to form a society to lobby against it but it does grate on my nerves when I see it.

The around trend is a bit different.  It seems people who are discussing strategy or policy think that to say "there are issues around this point" is a bit fancier than saying "there are issues about/with this point".  Like when people say `utilise' when they really mean `use'. It makes me think of a poor point, maybe overweight, good at its schoolwork, with red hair, surrounded by a mob of bogan issues, calling it a square.  I'm sure this is not what the person who says `around' is trying to provoke in my imagination.  Maybe they think that by saying `around' they are distancing things a bit, removing that element of blame or causation that words like `about' or `with' might indicate.  I'm really not sure.

What's worse is, I have heard it so many times, I said it myself the other day! I actually said to a client, "I know there are some problems around this".  I could feel it bubbling out of my brain and dripping out of my mouth with a bitter taste.  I said it anyway.  I don't know why I felt the need to say it.  I hate the phrase and yet in my attempt to sound like I was on top of things, an expert, a diligent strategist, it just popped out.

I know language is fluid, English perhaps more so than any other and I have accepted that not everyone cares about things like the difference between infer and imply.  I don't correct people - I think that is unforgivably rude - but I do try to regulate my own language. If I can't resist using `around' maybe I should just go with the flow and experience some linguistic freedom.

If you have any comments around this issue and what it infers for our utilisation of language, feel free to comment below.


  1. Nah...I agree. Sorry but I think you should stick to the real language and not change to the word "around". Be you, and stick to the "about" and "with".
    The english language needs to stay the same.
    Nina Johnson

  2. Oh, and by the way, there is nothing wrong in correcting someones speach :)

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  4. Ah linguophilic soul mate.

    You would not believe the amount of LITERACY lecturers who email me, confusing 'your' and 'you're'.

    The worst thing is people having a go at you for being too pedantic, as though YOU'RE the one who is a blight on the species.

    Hope you and other Maz are well, by the way. X