Circling the Drain

In my entry on “center around” (p 53) I vent my irritation at this construction, but I have to admit it’s taking over. “Centered around” does sometimes seem to mean something slightly different from “centered on”: sometimes the first expression gestures toward a general area under discussion, whereas the second usually focuses on one aspect of a larger topic.

This is a good example of language evolving in a way that makes no literal sense but which serves a function. Linguists smile and usage writers frown.

But when in contexts where either will do, I’d prefer the traditional “center on.”

I know perfectly well that there’s no hope of stemming the usage tide in this case, particularly since it’s a usage characteristic of influential, well-educated people who often prefer vague noncommittal language like “centered around” as opposed to forthright expressions like “centered on.”

But it still makes me cringe. 

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