Today’s Grammar Gripe, Seemingly Out of Nowhere


It’s “centers on,” not “centers around.” If you give it some thought, you’ll figure out why. If you can’t figure out why, your nearest mathematician specializing in topology will be happy to explain it to you.

If you must use “around” in a phrase, try “revolves around.” That will work, and will keep me from wanting to beat you to death with a hammer.

Thank you, that is all, for now.

118 Comments on “Today’s Grammar Gripe, Seemingly Out of Nowhere”

  1. If you want to explain toroidal sentence structure to me, I will be fascinated to hear it. Otherwise, you know. A torus is centered on a spot outside of its form, in the middle of its “donut hole.”

  2. I’ve always seen the two phrases as being different from each other:

    centered on: like you’re targeting or pointing at what’s being centered on ” I was centered on his central mass”

    centered around: surrounding something, sometimes even among, much more vague. “Our strategy centers around core ideals of corporate ideology”

  3. tiki god:

    I would certainly agree that “centers around” is the go-to choice when you’re trying to be vague and obfuscatory, since it’s grammatical chaff thrown into the brain. But it’s still crap in any situation.

  4. Ah, yes, Mythago, sentences ending in prepositions are something up with which you will not put?

  5. Jeff @7, exactly. The leaden thump of the loose preposition falling off the end of the sentence… *shudder*

  6. I prefer the previous format to your blog. this blank whiteness keeps fooling me into thinking the page hasn’t finished loading.

  7. (scene from the John Scalzi School of Grammar)

    “Write directly and to the point. Allow me to demonstrate. This is me throwing tomatoes with the target ‘centered around’ your head. Now, this is me throwing tomatoes with the target ‘centered on’ your head. Notice the difference.”

  8. OED disagrees:
    b. to centre (or be centred) about, around or round:
    to have (something) as one’s or its centre or focus; to move or revolve round (something) as a centre; to be concentrated on, to turn on (see turn v. 3); to be mainly concerned with.

    with examples going back to 1868.

  9. Like the new layout.

    Had the phrase “whatever” used on me for the first time this weekend when I was trying to explain my point of view and it instantly enraged me.

  10. <pedant>
    Exhibit for the defense, your Honor:

    The problem with living in [location] is that there are too many shopping centers around it.

    Otherwise, hell yeah.
    Also, “Grammatical Chaff” would be an awesome band name.

  11. Mythago, I never understood that grammar rule, because I dangle prepositions all the time. They’re almost always part of the verb, as in ‘to stand up’–given the right construction, ‘up’ might only be reasonably placed at the end of the sentence. It’s part of being a Germanic language, no matter what the Victorians thought. Grammar rules aren’t.

    (But, then again, I boldly split infinitives whenever it suits me–this drives my wife up the wall.)

  12. Steve:

    The OED ain’t no grammar guide, and if it is, then it sucks, because it’s wrong in this case. And, apparently, has been wrong since 1868.

  13. Dammit, now I’m going to spend the next 4 hours trying to come up with toroidal sentence structures.

  14. But, then again, I boldly split infinitives whenever it suits me

    Grammar anarchist. *sniff*

  15. @Marc: I hope you succeed, as it could only make the natural language parsing problem significantly harder.

  16. Where the heck is my copy of “Eats, Shoots & Leaves”!!!!! I just realized I haven’t seen it since, well, way before my move.


  17. @Mythago-
    Not ok to end with a preposition but ok to begin with But? Not in my house!

  18. What if I am trying to describe an area of knowledge that is more of an ellipse than a circle? Since it is described in relation to two focii, would that get a pass as “centering around”?

  19. Maybe I am a grammar anarchist, but I still wind up correcting other people’s spelling and grammar… I think it’s because I see grammar as fluid but not without form, so some things are just wrong, but nothing is absolute. Which is probably because I’ve studied how natural (human) languages fit within (without?) formal language theory and parser theory.

    Idle thought: We cannot even parse our own languages (with a computer), god forbid we ever run into an alien species and find we cannot understand the structure of their language at all.

  20. I don’t think the OED is a grammar guide and I don’t think they mean it to be. Rather, they show how the words have been used in writing. A style guide of a sort, but perhaps a bit lemming like.

    You are going to beat me to death with a hammer? Good to know that you will

    1) Die before me

    2) Have a hammer at that time.

  21. The Pathetic Earthing:

    “Since it is described in relation to two focii, would that get a pass as ‘centering around’?”

    No. You would say it has two foci.

  22. @Jeff: You’re thinking of that messy situation when otherwise well-behaved prepositions are acting as adverbs. I support your use ‘to stand up’ because ‘up’ is clearly an adverb here. Just because a word can be a preposition doesn’t mean it’s always a preposition.

  23. Absent use of its thrusters to maintain orbital equilibrium, does not Larry Niven’s Ringworld center around the star it orbits?

  24. @Fjord: Exactly, but the rule is often interpreted as banning this use, and it is this kind of case which puts the lie to the Victorian program to formalize English grammar.

    (Mind you, I am still just a grammar anarchist lobbing bombs, I don’t know a better way to teach the language, but it[Victorian formalism] has led to much silliness.)

  25. Sorry Nick, John is correct, orbits are elliptical with the orbited object at one of the foci. See the proprietor’s objection above to “The Pathetic Earthling.”

    (Notice: I picked someone other than our beloved proprietor to pick a fight with… I hope we can still be friends, Mythago.)

  26. so some things are just wrong

    Like splitting infinitives. The argument always boils down to “you’ll pry ‘to boldly go’ out of my cold, dead, nerdy fingers.”

  27. #18, 22
    That’s because neither of those “rules” actually comes from historical English. They were invented by a 19-century pedant who stupidly thought that all languages should follow Latin grammar. They don’t.

    Besides, what looks like a preposition at the end of an English sentence is actually an adverb in almost all cases. Words can have more than one use. Look up run or cut in a decent-sized dictionary.

  28. (a) Ringworld’s center of gravity is its star; (b) Ringworld isn’t a safe place to be, as Newton pointed out, because inside a uniform ring or sphere the gravitational forces cancel, so Ringworld needs active correction to avoid drifting into collision with its star; (c) the question isn’t one of grammar at all but one of usage.

  29. JJS @39, English follows English grammar. The infinitive form of the verb is “to _____”, without an adverb in the middle. Gene Roddenberry notwithstanding.

  30. “That’s how I’ve always heard it referred as, MikeT.”

    At the risk of a really big slap (I know it’s your site!) but referred TO! The ferre bit of referred means to carry or bring and so as is wholly inappropriate.

    I’m going now…

  31. This strikes me as one of those turns of phrase that someone twisted, probably to be clever (although it could have been a mistake), and the twist is sinking its claws into common use.

    Happens more often than we English majors would like. My (least) favorite example is: “you’ve got another thing coming!” My wife just sighs now when I start shouting “think! think!” at the television.

    Which, when I look at the latter half of that last sentence, explains a lot of my problem right there, doesn’t it? How do I lower my expectations further? I think it’d take a lobotomy at this point.

  32. @JJS, 39: that’s why I keep referring to the Victorians in my post (pretty much as code for that pedant). You’ll notice, he got away with it for on the order of a hundred years.

    English and Latin are both human languages, so they conform to the same limitations and rules of our built in parser (which is far and away the best parser known to humankind). We understand how to teach each other language, but the nuances and exceptions to major rules are learned by context from speaking and reading. We don’t really understand the underlying forms of human language. Part of the problem, is that rules can be readily broken, and the verbrecker can be readily understood–intentional or not. This is how puns work (multiple parse trees, some often more dubious than others). So, the overall point was, shoehorning English into a bunch of grammar rules stolen from Latin was not as great a sin as one might think–it worked reasonably well, which is part of why we all know Those Rules(tm).

    Try writing a general natural language parser. It is an exercise in humility. There are some very good ones out there, but this nut is far from cracked.

  33. Here’s another one:

    “home in on” vs “hone in on”

    Until in my 20’s I’d always heard ‘home in”. Then I started hearing “hone in” and it just didn’t make sense.

  34. Steve @14, OED is prescriptive not proscriptive.

    John, you may like Garner’s Modern American Usage. He is a great champion of precisely written English.

  35. JS @38: I’ve always heard it as “Take your daughter to work day. I’m not saying that’s correct, just what I’ve heard folks actually say.

    @39, 41: As to split infinitives, I don’t much care if it’s a rule of English grammar or Latin grammar, or what its history is. Whatever else it may be, it’s a stupid rule, and as such, I will continue to boldly ignore it as I please, regardless of what grammatical nerdgassers like Scalzi say.

    Same goes for sentence-ending prepositions.

    @32, 33, 40: The Ringworld is unstable. ‘Nuff said. ;-)

  36. So if I said something “centred along” something else, would I get worse than the hammer? How about “centred against”? Is the infraction worse for departing further from reality? Is there some sort of inverse-square falloff when it becomes obvious that the speaker’s grasp on reality isn’t so much buttered as absent?

    Or do these merely push you deeper into Conan the Grammarian territory, where you will crush your enemies’ apostrophes, have their postulates at your feet, and hear the lamentation of their English teachers?

  37. Eric, @46: I think a little leeway should be given for words not in common usage. “Hone” by itself has a fairly specific application, and “hone in” isn’t as common these days. It’s a bit like “tenter hooks” or “bated breath.”

    But just because I suggest leeway, it doesn’t mean we should let “tender hooks” and “baited breath” just slide by. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban featured the line

    The whole common room listened with baited breath.

    Which makes me think Hogwarts needs to let up on the fish sticks a bit.

  38. @MarkHB: as a sometimes machinist, I can think geometries for parts where those would be valid shorthand in machining instructions.

  39. MarkHB: And that brings us back around to my other tangent with an excellent example of multiple parse trees.

  40. For my part, I will continue to cheerfully mock the SPLIT INFINITIVES ARE ALWAYS WRONG crowd.

    Further: people who get snippy about ending sentences with a preposition just aren’t worth talking to.

    And people who tell you never to start a sentence with a conjunction should either shut up, or complain to the King James Version.

    You got a problem? Tell it to Shakespeare.

  41. Jeff 18, that’s because the rule is nonsense. It was imported from Latin by people who thought Latin was how God talked, in a stupid attempt to make English more holy. But, as Teresa Nielsen Hayden has said, “The language Latin that same thing as English not is,” and for English it’s a total bullshit rule. As is the rule about not splitting infinitives, which exists SOLELY because Latin infinitives are one word. English infinitives are two words so that you can put something in the middle.

    As for the pedants who insist on these invented rules, heck with them and the horse they rode in on. And they’re welcome to try and correct that so it doesn’t end in a preposition. I’ll watch and laugh.

    (A favorite, captured in the field by Willard Espy: “What did you bring me that book to be read to out of for?” A child said it, but it’s a perfectly coherent English sentence.)

  42. @49

    Nice one, Gillian! I didn’t dare start on transatlantic spelling. We probably just have to let them get on with that though. We’d be here forever only to have someone point out that the Victorians did the whole z for s thing (as in realize ) in Britain too!

  43. Ah, I see you are loudly agreeing with me, Xopher. See some of my later posts.

    As far as split infinitives go, everyone does it, even those who proclaim not to. (Oops, dangling preposition!) My wife catches herself at it. When you catch one of them at it, call ’em on it. Then, get them to reposition the adverb in a way that is natural (flows well, sounds good, &c.). They won’t be able to. (d’oh! Did it again!)

    Just say “Boldly to go where no man has gone before” or “To go boldly where no man has gone before” out loud. Trippingly off the tongue they are not.

  44. MarkHB: If a helix can’t properly be said to center along a line, then something’s wrong with the language.

    MWStover: Beware of the appeal to Shakespeare. If you accept it as definitive, you must accept “Must Unkindest” (and, by analogy, all other Most XXXXest formulations) as correct…

    For the original post: Imagine a really, really big black hole, big enough that the surface gravity is a single earth gravity. Since light doesn’t escape, looking up will let you see the other side of the surface of the hole, more or less, so the people on the surface experience it as if they were on the inside of a sphere. Except that the point in the center of that sphere is actually all of the points along the black hole’s event horizon. I think that there are some meaningful uses of “center around” describing the relationship of between the surface of the black hole and the event horizon…

  45. Yes, Jeff, we’re in violent agreement.

    But your last example, unfortunately, is what Mythago means when she says it all boils down to Star Trek. She’s wrong, of course, but we need to come up with better (or at any rate other) examples.

    Pedants may rant about split infinitives, but millions will continue to blissfully do it just the same.

  46. Jeff again, I don’t agree about the helix or the black hole. A helix can perfectly well center on a line. And a black hole cannot have surface gravity equal to a single Earth gravity, and if it did, light would behave just as it does near the surface of the Earth, not as it does near a real black hole.

  47. Gh0d this place reminds me of Callahan’s sometimes. When’re we getting a fireplace? And more importantly, a bar?

  48. Centers around… Can’t say I remember using that one too much. Revolves around, absolutely. Seemed — seems? — more correct on the tongue.

    Can I have a sticker?

  49. Jeff R #59 —

    You can’t frighten me with “Most Unkindest,” (as in “most unkindest cut of all) because, first, it occurs in dialogue, which is immune to any rule of grammar beyond simple comprehensibility, and second, English grammar as we know it is largely the creation of Shakespeare, Milton, and the King James Version as filtered through Samuel Johnson.

    Which is another way of saying: If Shakespeare wrote it, you’re just gonna have to suck it up and take it like a man. If it’s in the King James Version, you’re dead in the friggin’ water. Arguing that the greatest masters of the English language “got it wrong” is buffoonery.

    Here’s a simple fact of the English language:

    Rules of grammar either reflect usage, or are entirely useless. They are not rules at all, in the sense of, say, the rules of baseball. The rules of grammar are the kind people talk about when they say “as a rule,” or “rule of thumb,” which only means this “rule” is descriptive, not prescriptive.

    In other words: if you understand what I’ve said, pronouncing the WAY I’ve said it “wrong” is puffery, at best.

    Oh, and — the “you” above is not directed at You Personally; it’s just that constructing those observations with “one” (as some grammaricians would insist is correct) is clumsy and ends up sounding mostly silly.

    And before anyone jumps on it, “grammarician” is a coinage of my own, to separate the tut-tutting grammar-snobs from honest grammarians such as the Willard Espy mentioned above: cataloguers of usage, as opposed to Word Police.

  50. Unsolicited plug:

    The estimable Willard Espy mentioned above wrote a perfectly delightful book on English usage which is called, if memory serves, SAY IT MY WAY.

    Recommended to all who are interested in the English language. He could write. And he knew better than to take himself seriously.

    Unlike, say, me. But I’m trying to get over it.

  51. Xopher@61:

    And a black hole cannot have surface gravity equal to a single Earth gravity.

    “Yes, it can!” seems unduly argumentative, but this is the Internet, after all.

    If you define ‘surface’ to mean ‘event horizon’, then nothing particularly strange happens near the event horizon of a large black hole, at least from the point of view of an observer nearby.

    The radius of the event horizon is proportional to the mass of the black hole, so the gravitational pull at the event horizon is approximately inversely proportional to the mass of the black hole.

    Remember, cosmologists are still arguing about whether the universe has enough mass to collapse (in which case we are inside its event horizon) or not. If a mass is large enough, even being inside the event horizon doesn’t make things look strange locally.

  52. Xopher: as I said, it is a very, very large black hole. Possibly requiring more mass than the universe is believed to have, but that doesn’t matter for the thought experiment’s sake. Being very large, it’s surface is quite distant from it’s center of mass, enough so for the inverse square law to do it’s thing and reduce the experienced gravity at that surface to 1g.

    Going for the case where the distance from the center to the surface is the same as the distance from the surface to the event horizon, my back-of-the-hand calculations show that the black hole in question has a mass of about 3E43 kg, and a radius of 2.25E16. So that’s “do-able”, even; only about a tenth of the known stellar mass of the universe…

  53. Xopher, if I may, you slightly misread me. I used to boldly go, since we’re a pack of nerds (see Callahan’s reference above in someone else’s post). Look back at my post, I said catch them splitting an infinitive–I’ve caught my wife at it and done this to her when she’s split one. Have them try to put the adverb elsewhere else in the sentence. It won’t work, no matter the example, because we split infinitives in English, and that’s the way we likes it. (To aggressively agree with you.)

  54. Xopher:

    … and the horse, in on which they rode.

    Ok, so it sounds like Chaucer, and would only be used in the most turgid and formal of conversations, but it can be done. In fact, if you were trying to express to your listeners simultaneous high dudgeon and excruciating correctness, perhaps to lighten an argument over grammar and stop your interlocuters throwing chairs at each other, it’d be the correct form. But only then.

    But if ending a sentence with a preposition was good enough for Churchill, it’s good enough for the likes of me.

  55. Being an EFL teacher has made me a lot more prescriptivist that I might have otherwise grown up to be. Students want rules, they want some kind of touchstone upon which to base their use, and it’s my job to provide those. I’ve actually seen people get upset when I tell them that English – like Japanese, or every other language – is forever evolving, and a rule that is generally accepted today might be considered hilariously old-fashioned fifty years from now.

    Until then, I’ll be explaining the difference between “made of” and “made from,” or “you should” and “you had better,” and “would like to do” versus “would do” versus “like to do.”

    Long story short (too late), I’m siding with Overlord Scalzi on this one. “Centered on.”

  56. “Remember, the Aperture Science ‘Bring your daughter to work’ day is the perfect time to have her tested.” – word of GLaDOS, therefore it’s correct.
    And I’ve never had the displeasure of seeing ‘tender hooks’ written outside of showcasing it as an error.

  57. Jeff

    Yes, but the variations in the wording are not surprising: it’s third hand reportage of a conversation someone remembers Churchill having had at some point. But Gowers, who most famously reported it, was actually a correspondent of Churchill, was in a position to know, and to be corrected if he misattributed the quote.

    Given that Gowers’ reporting can be traced back to 1948, when Churchill certainly would have heard it, and would not have been backward in coming forward to correct it, proper as he was, I’m inclined to believe the sentiment, even though the particulars vary.

    There’s some evidence that the thought didn’t originate with old Winston, of course: he just took it and ran with it after seeing an article in The Strand back in 1942.

  58. vian, yeah, that’s what I meant by “I will laugh.” ‘…the horse in on which they rode’ (no comma, it’s restrictive) is laughable. Never said it couldn’t be done, just that it’s ridiculous.

    I think we’re in violent agreement (again).

  59. The “D” in “OED” means dictionary. The OED is an attempt to document all usage of a word (or phrase) throughout history. Just because the OED editors managed to find quotes that contained “centered around” doesn’t mean those authors were right. For an example in this very post, go to #51 where Richard points out the renowned master linguist JK Rowling’s use of “baited breath” (presumably to set a trap). God help us if the OED uses that one!

    I am with our esteemed Proprietor on this one. “Centers around” doesn’t even sound right.

  60. John Scalzi@2: If you want to explain toroidal sentence structure to me, I will be fascinated to hear it.

    Well, to begin there’s the ancient “mystical” chestnut:


    But since you have to twist each side to line it up with the opposite side, it’s actually a projective plane sentence and not a torus. :)

    I’ve been trying to come up with an English sentence where you attach then end to the beginning and no matter which word you begin with it forms a grammatical sentence, but no luck so far. If you can then you can below this sentence write it shifted one word to the right (or left). When you’ve cycled all the way through it you can cut out the square and attach opposite ends to form a torus.

    Why, yes, I have things I need to get done which I’ve been valiantly procrastinating about. Why do you ask?

  61. “Centers Around” annoys me almost as much as “Meteoric Rise” and “Quantum Leap.”

    Meteors don’t rise; they fall.
    A “Quantum Leap” involves a subatomic particle jumping from one state to another within an atom.

  62. Xopher@81: heee, most of the smart-ass responses that occurred to me aren’t family-friendly.

  63. Xopher@74,

    How many is ‘they?’ The horse will probably object to carrying too many people, especially if it’s the pony John was promising at one time. (or was that cake…….?)

  64. “If you must use “around” in a phrase, try “revolves around.” That will work, and will keep me from wanting to beat you to death with a hammer.”

    The crime scene investigator turned to his partner and said, “Eckley, would you say that this hammer wound is centered on the victim’s forehead or centered around it?”

  65. Okay, after a bit of muttering to myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that somehow my brain thinks that a single thing can ‘center on’ something, but that a group would be ‘centered around’ something.. in other words, on vs. around somehow in my head depends upon the plurality (pluralness? cardinality? whatever) of what’s doing the centering. The flock is centered on the well, but the sheep are centered around the well.

    And yes, aren’t pet peeves from? One of mine is people who turn ‘for all intents and purposes’ into ‘for all intensive purposes’. ick.

  66. Obviously, you reign in this blog, but I have some doubts that your admonition will help much to rein-in that usage elsewhere. And I see some justification for using “centers around” as a shortened for of “centers somewhere near but not precisely on”.

  67. What amuses me most about discussions of a linguistic nature, is that most of the people involved haven’t a clue how languages actually work, beyond what some equally clueless high school/university English teacher told them.

    Everyone seems to think they’re a linguist because they know a language.

  68. We all have our pet peeves, Duck. It’s festival time here in lovely Reading, so the place is – again – librerally slathered with flyers advertising Festival Ticket’s. Yes, Ticket’s. It’s like being poked in the bellybutton with a burnt-out match every single time I see one.

    In terms of a group of things being centred around another thing, then yeah – I can get behing “The wagons circled, centred around the campfire”. That’s not a single thing, though, that’s a group of items in a radial array with a common centre.

  69. PJ:

    “The flock is centered on the well, but the sheep are centered around the well.”

    Gaaaaah. No. The sheep are gathered around the well.

    Don Fitch:

    “And I see some justification for using ‘centers around’ as a shortened for of ‘centers somewhere near but not precisely on’.”

    What’s wrong with “centers near?” There’s some advantage to using something that’s grammatically ambiguous over something that’s grammatically precise?

    Sinister Duck:

    “Everyone seems to think they’re a linguist because they know a language.”

    Well, my college degree is Philosophy with a Concentration on Language, and my profession is writing, and has been for two decades. So both academically and professionally I feel competent to speak on the subject, or at least gripe about it from a knowledgeable point of view.


    “I can get behind ‘The wagons circled, centred around the campfire’.”

    No. The wagon circle would center on the campfire. Honestly, this isn’t even close, grammatically speaking. And more to the point, if you have to gin up some sort of tortured plural construction to justify an expression which makes no logical sense, it’s probably best simply to use the (logically and grammatically) correct phrase, which suits the situation in any event.

  70. John Scalzi @ #2:

    Can’t give you an example of a toroidal sentence structure, but am fairly certain it would be a brilliant example of circumlocution.

  71. theophylact, Ringworld is unstable. A uniform sphere has 0 gravity everywhere inside it. A ring has 0 gravity at its center, but not elsewhere. As Ringworld drifts slightly off center, gravity pulls it further off (positive feedback).

    I’ve always used “Teach Your Children Sexism day”.

    Xopher, try “What did you bring that book I wanted to be read to from out of up for?” And if they’d been vacationing in Australia, “What did you bring that book I wanted to be read to from out of down under up for?”

    “Revolves around” implies motion, and generally not being all around at one time. “Surrounds” is the opposite for those characteristics.

    Sihaya, I would say that the hammer wound is in the center of the victim’s forehead. The burn centers on his left elbow. (A hammer wound is smaller than a forehead, so it seems the centering would have to be in the other direction.)

  72. Re: the OED

    I used to work for the Australian branch of Oxford, making dictionaries, so I know something of which I speak.

    The purpose of a dictionary is to show how language is, or was, being used; it isn’t trying to tell people how to use language. Dictionaries are descriptive, not presciptive.

    So, if the OED gives examples of ‘centred around’ with the same meaning as ‘centred on’, all they are saying is that many people use it that way (and have done for a long time), so it is considered legitimate usage in terms of common currency. It doesn’t mean they are saying it is necessarily grammatically correct. (Although, if something is used often enough and long enough, it tends to eventually be accepted as grammatically correct by the majority of people).

  73. @JS 89

    “Gaaaaah. No. The sheep are gathered around the well. ”

    I’d think that you of all people would know that it’s more of a Baaaaa.

  74. Off-topic:
    My gripe is that as well as I know that the Internet will never get over its growing problem with when to use “its” versus “it’s,” just taking a quiz or something could probably fix it. I.E. Question 1: The dog wagged __ tail excitedly.
    A) It’s
    B) Its
    C) Derp derp derp

  75. @LizrdGizrd

    Certainly not. My apologies.
    Question 2: The group went to pay a visit to __ local movie theater.
    A) There
    B) Their
    C) They’re
    D) Herp derp

  76. I also cringe at “centres around”, which I hear and see a lot in the UK in the media (though I’m not sure if it’s a grammar point or just a meaningless phrase given the normal meaning of the words in it).

    And while we’re on centres, I also don’t like the use of “epicentre” to mean something like “super-duper centre” as in “we both ended up at Cronulla, the absolute epicentre of the Shire”, instead of its technical meaning connected with earthquakes (and now I see epicentre can also mean “the point from which an infestation begins and radiates”).

    I’m OK with ending sentences with prepositions, starting sentences with And and But and so on, and also with splitting infinitives, assuming the results are not too clunky-looking. Language Log, the blog by professional linguists, is interesting on what they call prescriptivist poppycock. They also coined the term “Eggcorn” for the use of the wrong word instead of the correct one (in that case “acorn”, but also baited/bated, thing/think, and “old timers’ disease instead of Alzheimer’s disease”). And more.

  77. You center right on me, baby, right on, like the cross-hairs, baby, right on, right o-on.

  78. clearly a fine crowd you have, um, gathered here, Overlord Scalzi Baaaaaa… (nods to #93 Lizard)

    i read the post and laughed out loud that someone else cares about such things as much as i do

    and #28? you crack me up, you creative word nerd, you

  79. “What’s wrong with ‘centers near?'”

    Nothing — and much that’s right (though I’d have put the close-quote before the interrogation point). Ahem.

    Perhaps the fact that I didn’t think of it helps explain why I’m not a Writer, but just sometimes a transcriber of (my own) conversation. I do think they’re distinct genres, with different standards of perfection — even though, in sooth, precision in writing does encourage precision in thinking, and (nowadays) casual, conversational material often is presented to such a large audience (OnLine) that more-writerly carefulness would be a good idea.

  80. I am concerned here, not with the grammar, but with Hamsters.

    Given your last complaint about grammar, and the consequences of making mistakes, I need to know? Will any hamsters be harmed in the application of correction.


  81. Seth 91: Nice preposition chains, but were they observed in the wild? That is, not made up on purpose, but natural speech, as mine was (IIRC)?

    A hammer wound is smaller than a forehead

    In general, yes, but it depends on the hammer and the forehead.

  82. #s 38 and 48, Take Our Daughters to Work Day is how I’ve always heard it, too, and it only recently started to bug me.

    Are we going to take John’s word on what it’s called, when that’s pretty much every day for him?

  83. OT, but reading TLC, I ran across an error. You probably have already caught it, but on the off chance…

    Chapter Seven starts off with “Roanoke revolves around its sun every 305 days. We decided to give the Roanoke year eleven months, seven with twenty-nine days and four with thirty.”

    Does not compute. 7*29 + 4*30 = 323.

  84. That was an introduced error (i.e., I didn’t put it in there, someone else did) and it’s been fixed in later editions.

    Also, if you know something is off topic, don’t post it in a comment. E-mail me.

  85. Holy crap. How long have you had a first name for, Scalzi? Or should I say…… John Scalzi

    I don’t like this. It’s change. I fear it.

  86. It’s “Take your daughter to work day” if your life is centred on your home and family; it’s “Bring your daughter to work day” if your life is (as it were) centred around your office environment. Perhaps.

    More generally, though, some people just use bring where others would use take. Personally, as a Brit, I’d say, when at home, “I must remember to take a bottle to the party”, but when I’m at the party, I’d say “Oops, I forgot to bring a bottle to the party”. I think Americans would be more likely to say, getting ready to leave home, “I must remember to bring a bottle to the party” (and, who knows, might be more likely to remember).

    Still, British invitations are likely to say “Bring a bottle” (if it’s that kind of party) – though in that case the inviters are, notionally, already at the party and hoping for their guests to bring stuff to them. As an invitee, I’d be taking a bottle to them.

  87. “Also, if you know something is off topic, don’t post it in a comment. E-mail me.”

    Sorry. Are there errata somewhere?

  88. Afraid I have to disagree with the Great God of Snark here (and I truly mean that in a good way), but it’s a REALLY bad idea to ask a topologist about this, ’cause 95% will say “centered on” (I know, because I took a poll). AND they will bore the *)((%# out of you while explaining why….

  89. The problems of trying to conduct mathematics in English.

    The counter-example I have is seven poker chips, six red, one white. If the red chips are “centered on” the white chip, then the image in my mind is that they are a stack of chips; but if they are “centered around” the white chip, the image is that they are a ring of red chips surrounding the white chip.

    Mostly, though, I agree with you. “Centers on” is usually a sign of vagueness.

  90. Scalzi: “If you must use ‘around’ in a phrase, try ‘revolves around.’ That will work, and will keep me from wanting to beat you to death with a hammer.”

    On the other hand, a crankshaft – or similar mechanism – revolves on a bearing. It does not revolve around a bearing.

    Just to pick a nit . . .

    With best wishes,
    – Tom –

  91. htom@113,

    “Centers on” is usually a sign of vagueness.

    I agree. Which is why in your example of the poker chips, I would say in one case that the red chips are stacked on the white chip, and in the other that the red chips surround the white one.

  92. Xopher, I believe that most of it was observed in the wild, two or three prepositions were added because they could be.

    If the hammer wound were much larger than the forehead, I’d be more likely to say “His entire body was pulverized by the 15-ton weight.”