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Centering Something? Choose Your Next Word Carefully!

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On Saturday’s edition of CBS This Morning, anchor Rebecca Jarvis, in reporting a manhunt, mentioned the area in which the search is “focused around.”

Let’s think about that for a second: you don’t focus around something, you focus on something. (You can “focus around” something if you’re trying to essentially hide or ignore the thing you’re not focusing on, but that’s clearly not the meaning needed for her sentence to make sense.) Besides “focus around,” writers seem to similarly misuse “center around” often.

Let’s consider these two sentences:

The dispute revolves around medical benefits for seniors.
The dispute centers around medical benefits for seniors.

Only one of these sentences is correct. You can “revolve around” something. And I suspect that it’s “revolving around” something that confuses writers into choosing the wrong word to accompany center and focus.

You don’t “center around” something. If you center something, you center it on a certain point. Even if you are centering multiple things “around” another object, each individual piece is still centered on a specific point in its place. That’s just how it works.

Is it nitpicking? I’m sorry if it sounds that way to you. But not taking little details seriously affects the way some people see you as a communicator. Whether it’s fair or not, that’s the way it is.

You can either “not care,” or you can at least try to make sure your writing is as clear as it can be.

I hope you’ll choose the latter.

5 Comments

  • danielalex_book says:

    It is a little nitpicky, but sometimes we have to be.
    Itz no scrt dat comm is gettin worse by da day
    Yes, most people can understand the above sentence, but is that how we really want to communicate?
    I don’t!

  • TammyL says:

    I care! Words have meaning. They should be selected on that basis. Using them incorrectly because other people do is like jumping off that bridge to follow your friends!

  • audaciouslady says:

    Come teach my students! :)

  • chattyprof says:

    What a great point! Center is a middle. Focus is the same thing. If you have a focal point, you aren’t “birdwalking” that focal point in a million directions (or let’s hope not!). Love these posts!

  • profkrg says:

    I once heard an anchor say that a man was “very fatally wounded and he died.” Chew on that for awhile.

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