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I have seen the discussions of "to center on" vs "to center around", and usually the argument is that "to center X around Y" is illogical. The counter-argument is generally that it is an idiom and therefore does not have to be logical. However, I do not see why this phrase is illogical.

To me, there are clearly to ways that "to center" can be used:

  1. Putting X in the center of Y.
  2. Putting the center of X on Y

The first meaning obviously doesn't make sense with "about". You can't center a picture around a page. But in the context of second meaning, I find it is perfectly logical to center X around Y, eg. "to center a circle around a point". "At" and "on" also make sense here, but so does "around".

So why is it necessary to invoke the argument of the idiom? Am I misunderstanding something?


Edit: This is not a duplicate of this question. Most answers there just state it is illogical, not why. The few that do only say that it is illogical since to center X is to put X in the center, which is only the first meaning I mentioned. The answer of user oosterwal comes close but only talks about a set of multiple.

I would like to know why it is illogical to center for example a hullahoop around a candle, i.e. putting the candle in the center of the hullahoop.

Moreover, even the idiomatic use seems logical to me, since for example arguments centered around a main point seem more meant in this second meaning, rather than them being in the center of something.

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, ab2, user140086, Nathaniel, tchrist May 27 '16 at 4:51

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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    It's not quite a duplicate- that question asks whether it's illogical, this one asks why people consider it illogical. The other question just doesn't answer this one. – creative_name May 25 '16 at 15:37
  • As this NGram shows, AmE has largely settled on centers on in recent decades, but centres around is still relatively common too - particularly in BrE (note the spelling difference in the chart). – FumbleFingers May 25 '16 at 16:22
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    ...I see nothing "illogical" in either preposition, and I certainly don't think there's any scope for talking about "grammatically correct" in this context. – FumbleFingers May 25 '16 at 16:24
  • @creative_name: I think it is a duplicate. All the answers to the original seem to reference the "logic" or "sense" of both forms, so I don't see why this question counts as something separate. OP could always post a comment asking for clarification on one of the original answers if there's highly specific aspect not explicitly covered. – FumbleFingers May 25 '16 at 16:29
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    It is not a duplicate. The other question or its answers do not answer my question. I tried to clarify in an edit. – Lu Kas May 25 '16 at 17:18

I think your example only works with the word circle, because it is contextually known that a circle is drawn around something. So it is perhaps not illogical when the thing you're centring around a point is itself round (and around a centre). It could be considered a contamination of revolve around / drawn around with centred on, though.

But I don't think it works logically with other shapes, like centring a legion around a flag: it would mean that the centre of the legion is a circular shape, and that this circular centre lies around the flag. That doesn't make sense (although of course it can be supported by idiomaticity).

Another point: I think centring a circle around a point is pleonastic, because a circle is already necessarily around something, so you're saying the same thing twice when you say a circle is centred around a point.

  • I don't understand why it would not work for other shapes. Centering a legion around a flag seems to make perfect sense to me. I don't see what the shape of the legion's center itself has to do with it. I could also imagine centering a (rectangular) frame around a mural ... No? Centering a circle around a point is not pleonastic, I meant centering it around a specific point, eg. around the corner of a square. – Lu Kas May 25 '16 at 17:26
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    @LuKas: I think the basic fact that you can replace around with a non-round preposition (like on) is evidence that the roundness of around was pleonastic? Otherwise, around would add something to the sentence. After some more thinking, I think is the root of the problem, and my legion is an extension of it. – Cerberus May 25 '16 at 18:30

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