Expanded Use of ‘Concerning’ is Disconcerting

www.RuthlessEditor.comI hate to be considered an inflexible, grumpy grammarian.

That’s why I’m working on controlling my irritation with the expanding use of concerning to mean something that is worrisome or unsettling.

There is so much going on in our country and our world that people are worried about, we hear this is concerning, that is concerning … ad infinitum.

Merriam-Webster.com is one of the stalwarts that sticks with the original definition of concerning:

a preposition that means relating to something or someone; regarding; about

Other less-traditional dictionary sites add the evolving second meaning of concerning:

an adjective to describe something unsettling such as a situation or behavior

Here are examples I used when I wrote in December 2016 about the correct use of concerning:

We met with the traffic director concerning adding a stop sign at the school crosswalk.
Seth and I had a conversation concerning the new supermarket being built in our community.
The manager’s weak approach to dealing with issues concerning habitually late employees is unacceptable.

Note that related to, regarding or about could be substituted for concerning in each case.

Disconcerting is defined as something that causes one to feel unsettled. Synonyms for disconcerting are unnerving, troubling, alarming, worrying, disturbing, perturbing.

Which of these would you most likely say or write?

Facebook has some concerning content.
Facebook has some disconcerting content.
Some Facebook content concerns me.

It’s concerning that so few students follow the dress code.
It’s disconcerting that so few students follow the dress code.
It’s troublesome that so few students follow the dress code.

I find the failures in the inspection process concerning.
I find the failures in the inspection process disconcerting.
Failures in the inspection process concern me.

Although I will always consider concerning a preposition, its repeated use as an adjective has begun to sound acceptable.

If clear communication is our goal, can we tell by context which meaning of concerning is intended?

Not always.

If you wrote in an email, “ I found the invoice concerning,” your reader might think you left something out: the invoice concerning what?

“I found the invoice disconcerting” makes your message clear.

Is it a matter of a short versus long word?
Do I suggest using the shorter of two words when you have a choice — and when they mean the same thing?

Yes, usually.

Concerning has three fewer letters than disconcerting, so if you need justification for choosing concerning over disconcerting, that could be it. (By the way, disconcerning is not a word.)

I pledge that I will try to avoid letting this apparent lost cause get to me. Language evolves, new words appear, and existing words take on new meaning.

And I will try to avoid subconsciously correcting people who use concerning to describe something troublesome. It is here to stay.

Where do you stand?

Kathy Watson
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Kathy Watson

Kathy has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

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