May 10, 1997 in Features

Let’s Get Into The Latest Use Of ‘About’

Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Revi
 

Let’s talk about “about.”

If I hear one more person say, “That’s not what I’m about,” or “Character is what this is about,” or “It’s about change (See your local Dodge dealer),” I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.

I’m going to ‘bout throw up.

Don’t get me wrong. “About” is not necessarily a bad word. About is a perfectly good adverb-adjective-preposition which has a fine and distinguished history stretching all the way back to the year 1130 when some monk wrote about an expanse of land “abuton the castel.” I have no problem with that. However, you will note that the monk didn’t write: “Let me tell you what the land is abuton. Castels. That’s what this land is abuton.”

The problem is: “About” has suddenly become the ‘90s version of “into.”

Remember “into”? Of course you do, because it never went away. In the ‘60s, the word “into” became the word of choice for everybody who wanted to vaguely express their interest in anything from Iron Butterfly to “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” to civil disobedience.

“I’m really into civil disobedience,”’ someone might say. “It’s like that thing Gandhi did. I could really get into Gandhi.”

“Into” became an indispensable word in many vocabularies because it was an easy substitute for dozens of more precise words that were just too hard to think up, especially after smoking a lot of pot. You could say, “I’m into economics,” instead of, “I’m studying economics,” or “I’m into my boyfriend,” instead of, “I’m psychotically obsessed with my boyfriend,” or, “I’m into Eastern philosophies,” instead of “I’m dabbling in Eastern philosophies in a superficial way.”

“About” has many of these qualities. And now “about” has surpassed “into,” because “into” has a crucial limitation. To be “into” something, you must be a person. But almost anything can be “about” something. An election, a campaign, a car, a company or even an entire governmental agency can be “about” something.

Listen to what new Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater said last December about the Transportation Department: “It’s more than about concrete, asphalt and steel. It’s about people - how they get to work, how they visit friends. It’s about how they pursue happiness.”

There you have it. The Transportation Department is about the pursuit of happiness.

This is astounding news, made possible only through the magic of “about.” If Slater had said the Transportation Department “stands for” the pursuit of happiness, or is “engaged in” the pursuit of happiness, or is “into” the pursuit of happiness, he’d have been laughed right out of that press conference.

But he wasn’t because we are now completely numb to “about,” especially after the autumn’s presidential campaign. Both candidates and their running mates were constantly saying what the election was “about” (character), what they personally were “about” (change), and what America is “about” (sacrifice, freedom, responsibility, etc.).

In the course of one campaign season, Al Gore somehow managed to say that the election was “about truth and character,” “about you,” “about children,” “about the 21st century,” and “about whether wages continue to grow or stagnate.” (Which leads to the musical question, “What’s it all about, Al?”)

Dole, however, topped Al by saying: “It’s about the United States of America.”

Well, that certainly narrows it down. If the election was about the good old U.S. of A., I trust everybody voted “yes.”

So now I call for a ban on the indiscriminate use of “about.” Instead of “about,” people can use “regarding” or “concerned with” or “stands for” or “connected to” or “engaged with” or any other of dozens more precise words.

Meanwhile, the traditional uses of “about” are perfectly fine. You can still refer to the land “abuton” your castle.

But if the words “Let me tell you what I am about” ever pass my lips, I give you my promise that my next words will be, “152 pounds, give or take a few.”

, DataTimes MEMO: To leave a message on Jim Kershner’s voice-mail, call 459-5493. Or send e-mail to jimk@spokesman.com or regular mail to Spokesman-Review, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Review

To leave a message on Jim Kershner’s voice-mail, call 459-5493. Or send e-mail to jimk@spokesman.com or regular mail to Spokesman-Review, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Review


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