In the past year or so I have noticed an increase in the usage of the term "Speak to" used in the place of "explain", "refer to" or "talk about". "Joe can speak to this subject better than I can", for example. I have noticed at work recently that it has morphed into "talk to", as in "Joe, can you talk to this PowerPoint slide"? or "I can talk to that subject". Is this a recent local trend, or a regional one?
Welcome to the forum geogirl. Don't know where you're located, but here in Arizona I hear it all the time. I also hear it on national broadcasts, so I suspect this is not a regional thing. Grammatically, it does not make sense. Still, people know what it means.
I cannot point you to an origin. Ngrams shows a reversal of a downward usage trend for "speak to" around 1980, but I don't know if that corresponds to the usage you're asking about.
My guess is that it's just one of those morphs of the language that (for whatever reason) caught on. Sorta like NASA saying "on orbit" instead of "in orbit." Or the NFL reporting scores/yards/whatever as "on the game."
'Speak to' sounds ok by me. It seems fairly common, and more business-liked than 'speak about.'
Thank you for your responses. I have noticed that these memes happen mostly in the office, or on radio/television, as Heimhenge said. Another one that seemed to spread quickly through meetings and emails was "I am needing" or "I am wanting". It's interesting how people will say one phrase for awhile, then it falls off, and another phrase pops up.
But you've raised another thing-
Robert said: 'I am wanting this from you' deserves only some acknowledgement, like, 'Is that so? Let me know when I can help.'
……….Usually a gerund describes an on-going activity, 'I am eating, I am thinking.'
"Joe, can you talk to this PowerPoint slide"?
…and coming up hard on the outside, "Joe, can you unpack this PowerPoint slide?"
Not sure, but, at the end of the day, it's my guess that these buzz words crop up out of flavor-of-the-year business/motivational/self-help bestsellers—and the sheep who lead in the business world all glom onto them as though they themselves coined/discovered it. Does this belief make me an outlier?
asusena Armenia said
……….Usually a gerund describes an on-going activity, 'I am eating, I am thinking.'Does gerund describe an on-going activity? I suppose not. Doesn't present participle describe an on-going activity? Surely. Gerund and present participle coincide in form, but differ in their 'meaning'. In "Smoking is bad for health", the word smoking is a gerund, but in "I saw him smoking", here it is participle.
While both the gerund and the present participle look alike (they're the forms ending in -ing) they can be distinguished by their grammatical part in the sentence: gerunds behave like nouns, participles (past as well as present) like adjectives. A very compact example:
- Baking casseroles are a hobby of mine. – "Baking" is a present participle (qualifying the type of dish).
- Baking casseroles is a hobby of mine. – "Baking" is a gerund (referring to the activity of baking as a thing).
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