Language · Word of the week

Word of the week: concerning

This is a post concerning the word “concerning”. It means “about”, or “regarding”. When I last checked it did not mean “troubling”, “worrying”, or “of concern”, but increasingly that is how people use it. I find this development mildly troubling.

Words change meaning. I’m fine with that. People change, technology develops, new words come along, older words change their meaning. Email is now a verb and a noun, and unlike 20 years ago it doesn’t have a hyphen in it. Text is now a verb. For a while I held out against that but will now write (or text) “I’ll text you later” rather than “I’ll send you a text later”. It’s the best available verb to describe this activity.

Any attempt to hold on to older meanings for words puts you at risk of sounding like all those Pub Bores who complain that words like queer and gay don’t mean what they used to, and why do people say “near miss”? “It should be near hit, not near miss.” And their fellow Pub Bores will nod and say, “You’re right, you’re right, it should be near hit. And another thing …” This is the kind of thing that will drive you to drink, as far away from people like this as possible.

I have heard Jeremy Vine use the word “concerning” in place of “worrying”. He’s a broadcaster we have long admired round here, even before his engaging stint on “Strictly Come Dancing”. Maybe he started using “concerning” with this new meaning during his time in South Africa. The first people I heard using the word in this way were South Africans. Maybe I’m concerned about the change in meaning because we already have enough other words to express concern, without layering extra meaning onto a word that previously meant just one thing. If someone describes something to me as “concerning” I am left waiting to find out what it concerns. It’s a little (how can I put this?) … worrying.



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