I’m used to “concerning” meaning

relating to or having to do with; in regard to; about

Now I see it more often in the sense of “worrying” as in “this is very concerning.”

Is this a particularly new usage?

I’m aware of Google Ngrams. Not sure how to apply it to this question though.

  • 1
    Corporate-speak substitutes bland language for accuracy. There are no problems, only issues ... and concerns. Jan 28, 2023 at 23:34

3 Answers 3


The use of "concern" to mean "worry" is quite old. As one example, the text "An Account of the Revival of Religion in Boston in the Years 1740-1-2-3," published in 1823, contains the following (p. 21, my emphasis):

O sleeper! awake, and hearken, there is a noise and a shaking among the dry bones. Some it may be of your own acquaintances, secure like you a little while ago, are now in deep concern, and can no longer relish those carnal pleasures in which you were companions. Now, destruction from God is a terror to them, and they are fleeing from the wrath to come.

He appears (though the scan is imperfect) to be quoting a speech given in 1741, so this usage is likely far older.


“I’m aware of Google ngrams. Not sure how to apply it to this question though.”

Seems I didn’t try hard enough :-/

I looked up “very concerning, mildly concerning, somewhat concerning”

It looks like this usage started in the early 90s.

There’s nothing wrong with the usage if it expresses something causing “mild concern” as opposed to something making you “very worried”.

In the old days I suppose we had to make do with “disquieting” or something “being cause for concern”.

  • 4
    The full OED covers this usage in definition 3: That gives cause for concern; troubling, vexing (mildly, or extremely - the word itself carries no special implication on that front). But their first citation is 1740 ( S. Richardson Pamela II. 159) I cannot bear any thing that is the least concerning to you. Jan 28, 2023 at 11:29
  • I added the modifier “very” because you can’t just search for “concerning” — that would give you all usages. The usage of “very concerning” shoots up, starting in the early 90s. There’s a nearly 200 year gap where that phrase hardly appears at all, according to Google ngrams.
    – colinh
    Jan 28, 2023 at 11:43
  • You might want to look at "deeply concerning" in comparison to "very concerning" too. Jan 28, 2023 at 11:53
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    Well, the OED's next cite is 150 years after the first. But it does specifically use intensifier very - 1890 F. A. Randle Imgar (ed. 2) iv. 18 They soon became rather numerous and very concerning, pelting the Hindoos with pebbles and rolling large rocks down ahead obstruently. Then it's another century until we get 1987 Daily Tel. 19 Feb. 40/6 It is concerning that an MP and a Minister could suggest that you actually have to be a member of Parliament in order to have an opinion. Probably just reasons of space, not that they couldn't "fill in the gaps". Jan 28, 2023 at 12:08
  • @Killing Time: The “deeply” versus “very” comparison is indeed interesting. Thanks.
    – colinh
    Jan 28, 2023 at 12:11

This is the second sense in Merriam-Webster:

concerning (2 of 2)
: causing concern or worry : creating reason for concern : TROUBLING
"It's extremely concerning that drivers still choose to give their attention to things other than the road when they're behind the wheel," said [Texas Department of Transportation] Executive Director James Bass.
—The Nueces County Record Star

This sense is derived from the adjective "concerned". The M-W definition is:

concerned for their safety
Concerned citizens protested the mayor's proposal.

  • This doesn't address the question of how recent it is.
    – Laurel
    Jan 31, 2023 at 14:01

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