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Channel 4 News. I hardly ever watch it. But the other evening, my inability to find the remote led to a few minutes’ viewing of post-election coverage in the US. It told me a few things – but more through its style than its content. 

Reporting on a speech the crew had been unable to film, a correspondent repeatedly told us how some politician had “talked to” various “issues”.

The use of “issues” in place of “concerns” or “problems” is annoying enough, but it became almost irrelevant after the fifth “talked to”.

Why not say “talked about”?

Is there some shame in using this humble, but highly versatile, preposition? And how could a (presumably) well-educated journalist use such a nonsensical phrase? How can you talk to an issue? It can’t hear you!

The other word that seems to have become a substitute for “about” is “around”.

“Let’s talk around this.” What, all stand in a circle and have a chat?

But it seems we’ve grown accustomed to this use of “around”, and use it to express virtually any relationship. “Here’s some information around Bristol.” “We’re looking at an article around hepatitis.”

In both cases, we mean “on”, don’t we? Which, if you think about it for even just a fraction of a second, is very different. The exact opposite, in fact: information “around” something is about everything except that something!

But it looks like not many people do think about it. It’s not just “about” that’s endangered.

Some might argue that we should accept these mutations in meaning – that English is a living language. That’s fine, but does this living have to involve some of our most useful words slowly dying?


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