Overused Prepositions and the Ubiquitous “On”

A linguistics professor I knew as an undergrad had a theory that in the future, all vowels would turn into the laziest possible sound–“uh.” His theory rested on the observation that language in cultures tends to devolve into simpler forms.

I’m reminded of that as I note one of my pet peeves: the generic application of prepositions in the speech of many Americans today.

First, consider the following phrases, ones so common that variants can be heard in nearly any setting, nearly any day: “He’s hatin’ on me” and “It’s cold up in here.” There are even two prepositions in the latter: up and in. The “on” is completely superfluous in the first, as is “up” in the second. Why are they there? They don’t add to the cadence of the statement, they serve no social function other than to mark the speaker as a rank and file member of America’s ignorant youth cult. Add to that the phrase “in here,” which is also mildly extraneous. Isn’t the location implied by the statement? If the speaker merely opined that “It’s cold,” would any of us, upon hearing, wonder what locale was being judged chilly? Siberia, perhaps?

Such bloated constructions have become the bread and butter of our pan-American dialect. No wonder editing is so hard to teach.

Even worse, let me draw your attention to the all-purpose preposition “on.” The dictionary tells us that it may well be used in a wide variety of situations, but does it bother anybody else that most people use it as their default choice?

Students tell me that they’ll do research “on” a topic, never the more specific “about” a topic. They get facts “on” the Internet, never “from” the Internet. They might copy and paste an entire essay “on” accident, but never the accurate (though still dishonest) “by” accident.” I even read a journal entry about “hanging out on the mall.” Egad! Has “at” been nefariously deleted from our collective vocabulary?

I’m not worried about society someday grunting to communicate. I’m saddened to live in one that has already abandoned its once-great appreciation for the nuances of our wonderful language.

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One comment on “Overused Prepositions and the Ubiquitous “On”

  1. My favourite is how people are “speaking/writing/et.c on something”, why not about?

    But I believe that the reigning current medium (mostly smartphones) will shrink our vocabulary (well, not mine) and grammar skills and constrict our range of expression in various ways.

    I still like full keyboard and I avoid using a spell-checker until I think I have finished. And still that “Send/Post/et.c” button gets clicked too early.

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