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OnWords: Meeting Around The Bush

Steve Jurvetson / Flickr / Creative Commons

One language trait I've noticed recently is a peculiar use of the word “around.”

Someone might be describing a new organizational initiative and say, “Let's get together and have a discussion around the new viral marketing campaign.” What the person would have said prior to the around ascendancy is, of course, “Let's get together and have a discussion about the new marketing campaign.”

So what's all this about around—or rather around it? Or whatever?

Around has the advantage of being both indirect and inclusive: around is still on topic, but it's non-specific. It's contextual, but still centered. When we have discussions around something, we don't have to weigh in too deeply, but we can still check it off the agenda as having been discussed.

Around also allows us to look at what a subject touches on without having to touch the thing itself. Using around instead of about might also be a way of making whatever you're discussing not your job. If you talk about a new project, for example, and happen to talk about it well, people might mistake your accuracy for enthusiasm or expertise, your competence in the subject for interest. And the upshot would be more work, more new projects, and probably no extra compensation for taking any of these on.

About, then, is potentially dangerous in a way that around is not. But it might also be an accurate description of the orbital nature of office-speak in the 21st century, around which there is endless discussion, but about which little can be changed.

Lael Ewy is a co-founder and editor of EastWesterly Review, a journal of literary satire at www.postmodernvillage.com, and a writer whose work has appeared in such venues as Denver Quarterly and New Orleans Review and has been anthologized in Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh.