Author Topic: There’s more than meets the eye in media’s odd use of “concerning”  (Read 8371 times)

Joe Carillo

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Last week, in “Why all this bad English in one of Manila’s leading newspapers?”, I posted in the Forum’s Badly Written, Badly Spoken section an e-mail by I.H., a Hong Kong-based Filipina writer and English-language teacher, who made the following observations about media English:

“Here’s something that could be discussed in your Forum. I’ve been struck by Western media reports in which commentators and politicians, remarking about the mess in the Middle East, say that the situation is ‘concerning.’ Why has that word taken the place of ‘worrying,’ which is the proper word for that idea? One can be ‘concerned,’ but when dire events mean countries are on the verge of civil war, or nuclear facilities threaten meltdowns, why do people say it’s all very ‘concerning’? That seems silly to me.

“I saw a Newsweek columnist using ‘concerning’ to describe the US and the Al-Jazeera network.  Even Hillary Clinton uses the term. Do they think using the word ‘worrying’ would be too alarming? What do you think?”

My reply to I.H.:
  
As I said in a short footnote to that posting, my quick reaction to that odd usage of “concerning” by some Western media was that perhaps those journalists and statespeople had meant to say “disconcerting” instead—a word that, of course, means “confusing” or “disturbing.” Well, it looks like I was too dismissive and too quick on the draw against their use of “concerning.” I say this because yesterday, I saw with my very own eyes the following news dispatch by the Associated Press that used precisely that strange-sounding sense of “concerning”:

Quote
Japan nuke plant leaks radiation into groundwater

TOKYO, Japan – Radiation exceeding government safety limits has seeped into groundwater under a tsunami-crippled Japanese nuclear plant, according to the operator, but has not affected drinking supplies.

The leak announced late Thursday could pose a long-term problem, however, and at the very least it is a concerning indicator [underlining mine] of how far Tokyo Electric Power Co. is from bringing its plant under control. Workers have been battling to stabilize dangerously overheating reactors after cooling systems were knocked out in the March 11 tsunami.

TEPCO has increasingly asked for international help in its uphill battle, most recently ordering giant pumps from the U.S. that were to arrive later this month to spray water on the reactors.

   
                                         ODD USE OF “CONCERNING” INSTEAD OF “DISCONCERTING”

                                      
                                         WELL-ESTABLISHED USE OF “DISCONCERTING”

There it is. The use above of the adjective “concerning” to modify the noun “indicator” in the sense of “worrying or troublesome” shows beyond any doubt that “concerning” was indeed a deliberate rather than an inadvertent word choice by those who were cited by I.H. as using it.. I therefore decided to check various dictionaries to see if this usage of the word “concerning” stands on solid grammatical and semantic ground.

Both my digital Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary and the American Heritage Dictionary don’t recognize that sense of “concerning.” They define “concerning” only as a preposition that means “relating to” or “regarding.” But lo! the Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, which uses the British English standard, provides two definitions for “concerning”: first, as a preposition that means “about; regarding; on the subject of”; and as an adjective that means “worrying or troublesome.” It’s therefore evident that the use of “concerning” by some Western media and government officials in the sense of “worrying or troublesome” is a perfectly valid and legitimate one. As such, “concerning” in the sense of “worrying or troublesome” shouldn’t really cause those who use the American English standard—including I.H. and me—to worry and lose hair or sleep over it!

While we are at it, I might as well mention that we also shouldn’t find it concerning—this is the first and the last I’ll use this word in that sense—to read or hear the word “concernment,” a noun dating back to the 15th century that, according to my Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate, has the following definitions:

Quote
concernment
1 : something in which one is concerned
2 : IMPORTANCE, CONSEQUENCE
3 archaic   : INVOLVEMENT, PARTICIPATION
4 : SOLICITUDE, ANXIETY


If you ask me, though, I think that under no circumstance should you allow yourself to be caught using “concernment”—and for the record, “concerning” as well in the sense of “worrying”—in any of the three apparently still unarchaic senses listed above. No offense meant, but “concernment” and “concerning” in the sense of “worrisome” both sound antediluvian to me.

SHORT TAKES IN MY MEDIA ENGLISH WATCH:

(1) Philippine Daily Inquirer: Subject-verb disagreement

Quote
Illegal logs to be turned into school chairs, tables

LUCENA CITY, Philippines—A government team composed of forest rangers, policemen, soldiers and Navy personnel are retrieving an estimated 2,000 pieces of round logs abandoned by illegal loggers in Sierra Madre to be made into tables and chairs for public schools, environment officials said.

Milliarete Panaligan, community environment and natural resources officer (Cenro) based in Real, Quezon, said a government team climbed Sierra Madre and established a base of operation in the mountain village of Canaway in General Nakar town.

As I said in a recent posting about Philippine print media’s grammar errors, subject-verb agreement is an English grammar rule so basic that newspaper reporters and editors worth their salt should no longer allow themselves to be caught violating it. In the lead sentence above, the subject of the sentence is the singular noun form “government team,” so the operative verb obviously should be the singular “is retrieving” instead of the plural “are retrieving.”

When parsing a nominal group, the term in English grammar for a long noun phrase that consists not only of several nouns but other parts of speech besides, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that it’s the number of the head noun—in this case, “team”—that determines whether the operative verb should take a singular or plural form. In that determination, we should make it a point to ignore the head noun’s premodifiers (in this case, “a government,” the elements preceding the head noun) and its qualifiers (in this case, “composed of forest rangers, policemen, soldiers and Navy personnel,” the elements that come after the head noun). As a rule, premodifiers and qualifiers don’t count in that determination; only the head noun does.

That flawed lead sentence should therefore read as follows:

A government team composed of forest rangers, policemen, soldiers and Navy personnel is retrieving an estimated 2,000 pieces of round logs abandoned by illegal loggers in Sierra Madre to be made into tables and chairs for public schools, environment officials said.”

(2) Philippine Star: Misplaced modifying phrase

Quote
‘Hot’ potato: Importer faces P380-M rap
 
MANILA, Philippines - The Bureau of Customs (BOC) filed a multimillion-peso suit yesterday against a major importer of sliced potatoes, which supplies these products to groceries and giant fast-food chains operating in the country.

BOC Commissioner Angelito Alvarez filed before the Department of Justice (DOJ) a P380-million technical smuggling suit against Makati-based Kool 8 Enterprises for “undervaluation of imports by as much as 62 percent.”

Look at the lead sentence of the news story above. Due to improper positioning, the nondefining relative clause “which supplies these products to groceries and giant fast-food chains operating in the country” wrongly—and absurdly—modifies the noun “sliced potatoes” instead of the noun “importer,” which is its true subject. The general rule for avoiding such misleading modifying situations is, of course, to place the subject as close as possible to the modifying relative clause.

A quick, very effective fix is to make the qualifier “of sliced potatoes” a premodifier instead, as follows:

“The Bureau of Customs (BOC) filed a multimillion-peso suit yesterday against a major sliced-potato importer, which supplies these products to groceries and giant fast-food chains operating in the country.”

This somewhat more involved rewording of the sentence also effectively gets rid of the modifier misplacement:

“The Bureau of Customs (BOC) filed a multimillion-peso suit yesterday against a major importer that supplies sliced potatoes to groceries and giant fast-food chains operating in the country.”

(3) Manila Bulletin: Improper use of an infinitive phrase as direct object of the verb

Quote
Floating school in Basilan town mulled

TABUAN LASA, Basilan, Philippines – The municipal government here is mulling to establish a floating school to serve the Badjao tribe in this town, Mayor Muctar Junaid said the other day.

Junaid said the proposed floating school for the Badjao children will have the same curriculum as in any other elementary school under the Department of Education (DepEd).

In the lead sentence of the news story above, the use of the infinitive phrase “to establish a floating school…” as a direct object of the verb phrase “is mulling” is an awkward, faulty grammatical construction. A much better, smoother way is to convert that infinitive phrase into the noun phrase “the establishment of a floating school…”, which is a form more suitable for serving as a direct object.

As I explained in detail to Forum member Nathan_Yell in my posting in My Media English Watch last March 7, 2011, some verbs in English can only take the infinitive as a verbal direct object, other verbs can only take the gerund as a verbal direct object, and the rest can take either the infinitive or a gerund as a verbal direct object. (Click the indicated link to read the full discussion of this point in “Grammar errors so basic that media shouldn’t be making them anymore.”) In the particular case of “mulling,” it just can’t take the infinitive “to establish a floating school…” as direct object; in contrast, “mulling” takes the noun phrase ““the establishment of a floating school…” very nicely and smoothly, as we can see in the following rewrite of that problematic lead sentence:  

“TABUAN LASA, Basilan, Philippines – The municipal government here is mulling the establishment of a floating school to serve the Badjao tribe in this town, Mayor Muctar Junaid said the other day.”

(4) Manila Bulletin: Wrong form of the subjunctive

Quote
Illegal drugs continue to hound Filipinos

MANILA,Philippines -- With a nation traumatized by the execution of the three Filipinos in China for drug trafficking on Wednesday, it is but crucial that the government starts this early to focus on the cases of at least 500 Filipinos who are currently detained in China and other parts of the world since 2006 for various offenses, majority of which are drug-related.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), 74 Filipinos are currently on death row for drug trafficking with reprieve in China.

In the lead sentence above, the subjunctive clause “it is but crucial that the government starts this early” is in the wrong form. As I explain in detail in “The proper use of the English subjunctive,” a posting I made in the Forum on December 19, 2009, verbs in the singular third-person subjunctive ignore the subject-verb agreement rule. They drop the “-s” or “-es” at their tail ends and take the base form of the verb (the verb’s infinitive form without the “to”), so the verb “starts” becomes “start” instead. (Click this link to read the full discussion of subjunctive usage mentioned above.)

Thus, the correct construction of the problematic subjunctive clause in the lead sentence above is this:

“With a nation traumatized by the execution of the three Filipinos in China for drug trafficking on Wednesday, it is crucial that the government start this early to focus on the cases of at least 500 Filipinos who are currently detained in China and other parts of the world since 2006 for various offenses, majority of which are drug-related.”
« Last Edit: March 04, 2017, 10:45:06 PM by Joe Carillo »

aurorariel

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Concern-- as in "I am concerned." (adj. or past participle)
or,
"It concerns me or them." (with an object)
or,
"... a concerning factor." (gerund).  Although this sounds correct in form,
it is awkward for me.  I felt someone is not telling me the indirect object that
I am waiting for.  I prefer to say "disconcerting."

Similarly, for a modifier, instead of saying a worrying factor, I'd rather say, a worrisome factor.
Instead of saying an awing factor, I'd rather say, an awesome factor.