English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Two examples from Google:

Doris McCarthy exhibit speaks to the artist as lover of life


A scribble that speaks to wild nature of art

Is this use of 'speaks to' new? I seem to have only started to hear it about a year ago, and now I hear it everywhere. Is it American?

share|improve this question
The second example seems awful without the 'the'. "A scribble that speaks to the wild nature of art", is wonderful English, for me at least. – Charlie Aug 6 '10 at 16:13
You're missing definite articles in both of those examples, actually. – Alan Hogue Aug 7 '10 at 20:18
up vote 3 down vote accepted

This post on Language Log is interesting. It suggests that "speak to [some concept]" has been documented since about 400 years ago, though there's some disagreement about how long it's been used in news publishing.

Personally, I think it feels awkward, as though there must be some neater, more established verb we could drop in instead, but I just can't think of one.

share|improve this answer
The verb address can often be used for the sense of 'speak to' when it is being used to mean 'evoke / reflect / represent'. – Erik Kowal Jul 10 '14 at 6:37

The Wiktionary mentions 3 usages:

1/ (idiomatic) To give evidence regarding something; to attest for.

2006 Staff of Vault, The College Buzz Book, page 176:

This definitely speaks to the fact that at Georgetown, beginning at the admissions process, you're not a number but a real person.

2/ (idiomatic) To address a particular topic.

1981, McGill journal of education

Education for being speaks to what grows within the person himself

3/ (idiomatic) To resonate with, to strike a chord in.

His music really speaks to me.

All three usages don't seem particularly new.

share|improve this answer
This is a good answer, antedating the OP's questioned usage to 1981, but your links are all to Wiktionary, not Wikipedia. – nohat Aug 6 '10 at 15:16
@nohat: thank you. Fixed. – VonC Aug 6 '10 at 15:17

protected by Andrew Leach Sep 28 '15 at 15:00

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.