I had high hopes when I engaged issues recently around a Zoë Williams article in the Guardian interrogating issues around notions of rape in popular culture. And Zoë — what a thinker! — nearly fulfilled those hopes. I nearly had another scintillating sample for my award-winning “Oh My Guardian” series. This is nearly a perfect opening for a sentence of echt Guardianese:
In terms of narrative tropes…
But it should of course have been:
In terms of core narrative tropes…
So near — and yet so far. Still, “In terms of narrative tropes” is pretty darn good, worthy of the Great Gary himself. And it prompted me to interrogate issues around one of the core linguistic enigmas of our day. Here are two graphs from Google nGrams:
What on earth is going on? Why have ITO usage metrics continued to rise in British English while peaking and falling in American English? This hasn’t happened with other core items of progressive English, like “issues around”:
And “notions of authenticity”:
And “engagement with” (in its progressive sense):
If those keyly core items of Progressivese are “spiking” so healthily on both sides of the Atlantic, why is the even keylier corer “in terms of” not doing so? At least, I would say ITO is keylier corer, but does the ITO fall in America suggest that it isn’t?
Maybe not. One possibility is that “in terms of” has been depreciated in an influential (and anti-progressive) American manual of style that hasn’t been influential in the UK. However, American speakers have failed to see that the same grounds for rejection apply to “issues around” and so on.
But it’s hard to see why American progressive would take any notice of sensible advice about rejecting ITO. It’s also hard to see why the American drop in “in terms of” shouldn’t have influenced the UK even if this hypothetical style-manual (or arbiter) isn’t influential in the UK.
Something mysterious is going on and more research is plainly needed.