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What are the origins of "ask after" and is it dying out as the way we currently speak?

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    We do say both. But, simply, after here implies showing some concern for the object of the inquiry, while about may do the same or simply be a request for information. The former implies that the person knows you and has some interest in your well being; about may be more dispassionate.
    – Robusto
    Dec 15, 2013 at 14:07

2 Answers 2

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Oxford Advanced Learner's dictionary says that this is a phrasal verb which implies being interested in "how somebody is, what they are doing, etc.", i.e. it's not necessarily about health or well-being, but trying to sound in a general way more personal and more caring, a step closer to the people you mention.

Here is the link: https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/ask-after?q=ask+after

It seems to me that saying 'ask about' is slightly less personal that 'ask after'. Such differences must exist due to nuances in meanings.

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It is more common today to ask for someone than to ask after them, but it means the same thing. It means to inquire or make inquiries regarding that person. The OED says you will still encounter ask after someone in dialect use, but it has for the most part been replaced by asking for someone.

Here are its last two citations for that sense:

  • 1866 G. Macdonald Ann. Q. Neighb. xxx. (1878) 524 – To ask after their health when he met them.
  • Mod. — Did any one ask for me, while I was out? When you reach that point, ask again.

Asking about someone isn’t necessarily asking for them, however.

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    It doesn't mean exactly the same thing. From ODO: "ask after or Scottish for (British) enquire about the health or well-being of". The phrase ask about can mean asking about somebody's health, but it could also mean other things, like prying into their affairs. Dec 15, 2013 at 14:25
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    I've looked at the OED's entry now, and I see why you answered as you did; I think the OED is too comprehensive to easily deduce the actual current British meaning from. Dec 15, 2013 at 14:33
  • I meet with 'asked after you' more than 'asked about you', but it's not what the police do. Dec 15, 2013 at 15:39

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