IT’S CONCERNING.

For some time now I’ve noticed people using the construction “it’s concerning,” used where I would say “it concerns me.” I don’t know why that should sound wrong, since it’s perfectly normal to say “it’s worrying,” “it’s alarming,” and so on, but “it’s concerning” is for some reason a new development and ipso facto, well, off-putting. Now I read in today’s paper about a local high school senior who’s a top-notch swimmer and has been getting lots of offers from colleges; having made up her mind to attend the University of New Hampshire, she said “It was relieving.” That was off-putting in the same way, and again, there’s no good reason why one shouldn’t be able to turn “it relieved me” into “it was relieving.” (A little research informed me that this too has been around for a while; Google turned up song lyrics like “And it was relieving when he walked away” and “It’s so relieving/ To know that you’re leaving as soon as you get paid.”) So I turn to the Varied Reader and ask: do these constructions sound normal to you? And if you find them new and a bit odd, as I do, can you think of other similar ones?

Comments

  1. Max Pinton says:

    Isn’t this just a result of not wanting to state the subject? “It was concerning” avoids the messy business of who was concerned. Maybe it was just me, maybe it was me and my family, or maybe I wasn’t concerned at all but other people were. But I agree, these sound awkward to me.
    Another option is nouning it: it’s a concern/worry/relief. That seems less odd to me.

  2. Lucas Barkley says:

    “It’s concerning” sounds weird if I actually think about it, but I probably have said it without thinking. To me, “it’s concerning” means it both concerns me and has the potential to be a concern in general, while “it concerns me that” is only the former. “It is a concern that” is clunky and I probably wouldn’t say it.
    However “it was relieving” sounds bizarre, especially when one could just say “it was a relief.”

  3. I’ve heard “concerning” quite a bit — it seems to mean “slightly odd, unusual, and/or unfortunate” without any hint of actual concern for anything. Never heard “relieving” before.

  4. I wouldn’t blink at “it’s concerning”, but I strongly reject “it’s relieving”. I think it might be because in my idiolect “relieve” in the relevant sense only appears in passive constructions — “I was relieved” but never *”It relieved me” — whereas “concern” can be used both ways: “I was concerned”, “It concerned me.”

  5. “It was relieving” sounds much more odd to me than “it’s concerning,” which I don’t think I would have remarked on if I’d seen it in another context. I can’t think of a similar novel/borderline construction that I’ve heard – everything I can think of seems either entirely normal (“it’s surprising,” “it’s troubling”) or impossible (*”it’s overjoying”). That last one does get 47 results from a Google search, e.g. “I need to feel confident in myself, but it’s overjoying when you hear someone tell you that THEY have confidence in you as well.”

  6. You can say “I have a concern”, but not “I have a relief,” so ‘concern’ and ‘relief’ aren’t entirely comparable. Whatever the difference is– maybe ‘concern’ is leaking into ‘relief”s semantic territory…

  7. My problem with ‘concerning’ is that it’s also used (a bit stiffly and formally) as a preposition: ‘I’d like to speak to you concerning x’ means ‘on the subject of x’. It’s a bit confusing (see what I did there?) to use it as a participle.
    My problem with ‘relieving’ with no object is that it sounds too much like a euphemism for ‘relieving him/her/my/your/oneself’, leaving out the reflexive object to disguise the (nonexistent) reference to bodily functions. A bit confusing in a different way.

  8. leaving out the reflexive object to disguise the (nonexistent) reference to bodily functions.
    “I relieved myself of this chore [by delegating it to X]”. I guess that derives from relieving the body of other things (“getting a load off”). Also there is “I have concerned myself with this matter for some time now”. This may be a bit high-flown, yet it still flies.

  9. On the rare occasions I’ve come across “It was concerning”, it has definitely sounded like an Americanism to my BrE ears, though not actually bizarre. “It was relieving”, however, is definitely a WTFism.

  10. “It is/was relieving to hear that …” sounds OK to me, though I probably wouldn’t say it myself. “It is/was relieving that … “, and “It is/was relieving [full stop]”, belong in Zythophile’s WTFism category.

  11. Early 20s Midwesterner. All of the construction sound perfectly normal to me and I’m positive I’ve chosen them over other similar constructions, usually as responses.
    “Was it relieving to finally pick a school? Yes, it was relieving (because of the stress, etc.)”

  12. Like many others, I find “it’s concerning” normal but “it’s relieving” bizarre.

  13. That last one does get 47 results from a Google search, e.g. “I need to feel confident in myself, but it’s overjoying when you hear someone tell you that THEY have confidence in you as well.”
    Aha, that’s very interesting. It may be rare, but the very fact that it’s used at all tells me that this is a usage that’s spreading; I have no idea what line separated the verbs that could readily be used in that impersonal construction from those that couldn’t, but whatever it was, it appears to be breaking down.

  14. I’m with Max: it’s part of a trend to remove actual people from statements, as if emotions can float free rather than residing in someone’s breast. “It’s troubling … blah, blah.” I associate it more with American English than British, but that just means it’ll be here soon enough.
    There is a related trend here that’s particularly evident in sports commentating. Rather than saying that X bowled faster, you say that he bowled with more pace. In other words, concrete adjectives and adverbs get replaced by abstract nouns.

  15. “It concerns me” I take to mean, “It is about me.” “Concerning” for “disconcerting” is more and more common, and it rankles whenever I hear it. To my ear, concern is neutral, but in this use it is always negative. But things change.

  16. “My problem with ‘concerning’ is that it’s also used (a bit stiffly and formally) as a preposition: ‘I’d like to speak to you concerning x’ means ‘on the subject of x’.”
    Michael, it’s being used as a verb with “x” as the object.
    “It’s concerning” is an attempt to avoid reference to the experiencer, an attempt to evade responsibility for one’s own feelings and shove it off onto the stimulus. It’s the same construction as “That’s offensive” in place of “That offends me”. Obviously “offensive” is meaningless unless someone is actually offended. “Offensiveness’ is not some self-existing Platonic object.

  17. I searched COCA and COHA, which between them cover AmE from 1810 to 2012. They report it’s concerning only from 2004 (other than in the sense ‘it’s about’, of course), but there is a hit for it was relieving from 1921, the novel Dust by E. Haldeman-Julius: “It was relieving to hurry across the dripping grass toward the barn.” I also find a hit for it’s concerning to me, which suggests that the construction is not always used impersonally: the person who has the concern can be restored obliquely.
    With Google Ngrams, I can push the construction back to 1995, in Report On Business magazine:

    “His board are terribly disappointed with the performance of the company,” says Kennedy. “He [meaning Mickey] is hurting by it. It’s concerning. It’s alarming.”

    There is also a 1993 hit in the novel Elvissey by Jack Womack. This, however, is set in the future (or possibly the future of an alternate past), and people do talk very oddly there:

    […] “Until he fumbles there’s naught to be done,” she continued. “Is the ruling against your husband impacting your judgment?”
    “It’s concerning me.”
    “I gather he’s miseried at present?”
    “Dangerously so.”
    “He is your husband, so I did as I could,” she said. “Mayhap he’s most dangerous to himself at present. But if he seeks other targets, ready yourself to jump.”
    “His medication ineffected,” I said. “Otherwise—”
    “He’s uncontrollable in any circumstance,” she said. “It’s as he was trained, so why surprise inheres, I couldn’t say. It was recommended that he be termed for his actions there, you know.”
    “By whom?”
    “Leverett. You didn’t know?” I shook my head. “The need to conspire overwhelms even the need to conspire against. It’s plaintruth [sic].”
    “He says you’re mindlost and you say he lies,” I said.

  18. Am I the only one to think “it concerns me” sounds wrong where “it’s concerning” sounds right?

  19. Yes.

  20. As an Australian English speaker from Melbourne, “it is/was concerning (to me)” is commonly used here, but “it/was overjoying” is never used. Of course we are talking about the concerning=worrying meaning not the concerning=about meaning. How come so many commenters don’t get this? Is the concerning=worrying meaning not universal in all varieties of English?
    As a naive non-linguist, the difference (between concerning and overjoying) seems to have something to do with whether the verb is ever used
    in a transitive way e.g. “it concerns/worries/alarms/depresses/saddens/gladdens/pleases me” are O.K and consequently so are “it is concerning/worrying/alarming/depressing/saddening/gladdening/pleasing”. However “it overjoys me” is never used (rather “it makes me overjoyed”), hence neither is “it is overjoying” used.
    “It is relieving” seems to be more of a line ball. I can (just) imagine saying “it relieves me to hear that” (although I would be more likely to say “it makes me relieved to hear that”). Hence, I can (just) imagine saying “it is relieving to hear that”.

  21. Marja Erwin,

    Am I the only one to think “it concerns me” sounds wrong where “it’s concerning” sounds right?

    No.

  22. The Ridger says:

    Instead of an attempt to take people out of the equation, I find “it’s concerning, etc” to be broadening the people involved. “It concerns me that…” is personal; “it’s concerning” says it’s not just me who is concerned, but everyone (or at least a group).

  23. Concerning the suggestions of dearieme and Jim that some of these locutions represent an evasion of responsibility — I am sympathetic, but I am also aware that it’s too easy to make this kind of criticism. People who get on soapboxes about passive verbs often find passive verbs very useful without thinking about it (and without using them to avoid responsibility). I find this use of “concerning” a tiny bit off-putting because it is a tiny bit unfamiliar; I find the use of “relieving” more off-putting because it is more unfamiliar; I find the corresponding use of “worrisome” not off-putting at all because it is familiar. And when someone calls something worrisome I ordinarily take it for granted that they are openly making a statement about their own feelings, or thoughts — not trying to bamboozle the reader with a phony Thing Out There.

  24. Definitely sounds new and very awkward to me. I expect there’s some analogy to ‘disconcerting’ going on.

  25. Alon Lischinsky says:

    To my (admittedly L2) ear, “it’s concerning” and “it’s relieving” sound perfectly normal. I’m not sure I would have flagged “it’s overjoying” as unusual without being primed for such a judgement, either.

  26. When I first started hearing “it’s concerning,” I thought it sounded wrong. To my ear, it still does. I am particularly annoyed that TV reporters often use the phrase to reference something that somebody somewhere thinks is somehow questionable. My response to this usage is, “Who the heck is concerned?” Of course, I’m 75 years of age so for many people, I’m “concerning,” as in “Who cares what the old guy thinks.”

Speak Your Mind

*