I have often heard presenters talking about something centered around another thing, but it seems a bit illogical and hence improper to talk like this. Am I right about this?
Quoting the Wiktionary usage notes for center:
Here is Merriam-Webster's original wording:
The phrase "X is centered around Y" makes sense if you consider Y to be a smaller, central object and X to be a set of related, but distinct, objects whose collective center coincides with Y. In other words, individual members of the set X are not centered on Y, but the collection of all members of X are.
"The planets of our solar system are centered around the sun."
"My arguments are centered around the hypothesis that every dog has his day."
To centre X is to place X in the middle. However in Y is centred around Z, the first part Y is centred suggests that Y is in the middle while the second part around Z suggests that Z is in the middle. This explains the feeling of the absence of logic. Nonetheless,
is correctly used to mean that he is in the centre of attention, not the news.
I agree with oosterwal. Centered can be defined simply as "in the center", and would be the meaning of the word in the publishing sense, as in centered justification (as opposed to right or left). In that case, if you place something in the middle of whatever is centered in the larger context (like a page), such as an O between two Xs... XOX, the Xs could certainly be said to be centered around the O; in the middle, not skewed to one side or the other. The sun in the solar system is a good example.
Unfortunately, Microsoft Word puts a big green grammar underline under my use of the the phrase, so I always change it to "centered on" to be a conformist. :P
When you focus on an object, you make it the center of your attention—and in my experience, few writers are tempted to describe this action as "focusing around" the object. But in the case of "centering" rather than "focusing," many writers and speakers opt for "centering around" in preference to "centering on," even though a similar kind of specific attention is involved.
One obvious instance of focusing is a camera focusing on a focal point; and one obvious instance of centering is a circle centering on its midpoint. In neither case, I think, does "around" describe the relationship of the action of the subject (camera or circle) with respect to its object (focal point or midpoint) as well as "on" does. In the case of a circle, the "around" action works far better with "orbiting," "revolving," or "circling"—though in that case what physically moves around the midpoint is a point on the circle (not the circle itself), as a satellite with a perfectly circular orbit would move around a star or planet.
Interestingly, though Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (2003) argues in a usage note that logic is irrelevant to the validity of an idiom (and therefore that "centers around" is perfectly valid), it uses "on," not "around," in the two examples it adds to its definitions of the verb center:
In the first example, Merriam-Webster's couldn't very well have said "center the picture around the wall" without suggesting that the picture somehow enveloped the wall; but in the second example, the dictionary could have used "around" in place of "on" and justified doing so by citing idiomatic usage. Nevertheless, it didn't. Merriam-Webster's favoring of "on" in its examples reflects the wider preference (as of 2000) in overall print usage, which, according to Google Books' Ngram Viewer, is for "centers on" over "centers around" by a margin of greater than 2 to 1:
I find two things especially interesting about the Ngram graph. First, it indicates that neither "centers on" nor "centers around" was at all common before about 1880. ("Focuses on" likewise appears to be something of a latecomer to everyday written English.)
Second, the graph shows that "centers around" and "centers on" were equally popular in published works from about 1880 until about 1914, and that "centers around" was slightly more popular than "centers on" between 1915 and 1950. Only after 1955 did "centers on" emerge as the preferred form.
I think that this rather late change in favor of "centers on" is more plausibly explained as a style preference imposed on published writings from outside (that is, by editors and teachers wielding usage guides) than as an organic reversal of preference among English speakers who were suddenly struck en masse by the persuasiveness of the logical argument in favor of "centers on."
protected by tchrist Oct 1 '12 at 3:37
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