• Monthly Archives: April 2019

Change in Grammar as a Change in Conceptual Structure (“based on” vs. “based around”)

April 9, 2019

For some time now in the recent history of American English, people have been saying “based around” instead of the traditionally normative “based on.” This phrase can be heard almost daily on the media, uttered by speakers who seem to be in their twenties and thirties. Why this change in grammar?

Apparently, these speakers conceive of the passive mode of the verb base as denoting some sort of peripherality rather than the centrality/fundamentality commonly associated heretofore with this word. The latter, after all, means (according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online) ‘the fundamental part of something; basic principle; essence, foundation, basis, groundwork’. The foundation of something is as central as one can get in the conceptual universe, is it not?

The shift in current speech must therefore be based on (take my grammar advisedly!) a reconceptualization of the verb. In the thinking of millennials et al., apparently resting on a foundation is conceived of as something tangential rather than central, i. e., covering the periphery of anything rested on (= its base), not on its core or center.


Basically Rampant, No Longer Couchant

April 5, 2019

In contemporary American English, with the internet and media regnant, new turns of phrase have a tendency to spread quickly if they express a basic cultural need as served by language. As noted in earlier posts here, the word “basically” has traced just such a trajectory, to the point of becoming a verbal tic in the speech of some members of the society (occasionally noted by Y-H-B in his own utterances). This was illustrated today by one of the co-hosts of NPR’s program “Morning Edition,” Steve Inskeep, who uttered the combination “basically automated.” Now, either something is “automated” or it isn’t. Hedging the meaning by inserting “basically” only changes the attitude of the speaker toward their own utterance, not the meaning sensu stricto. But this lion has raised its legs and can no longer be stopped.