Centering

rogersgeorge on December 5th, 2016

I mentioned separable verbs before, but I ran into two nice examples of correct and incorrect usage of the same verb, so here you go.

The verb is “to center on.” It’s transitive, so you have to have a direct object. You center on something. So:

The filter uses dual etalons in a double stack configuration (40mm external and 20mm internal) to provide a very narrow <0.5 Ångstrom passband, centered on the 6562.8 Ångstrom H-Alpha line.

It’s a telescope that you can look at the sun through. I have a similar one (with only the internal etalon). Stop by sometime during the day and I’ll get it out and let you look through it. You can see solar prominences around the edge of the sun. Pretty interesting. If you want to buy one like mine for yourself, go here. It’s a little less expensive than the one in the picture.

Now here’s now not to use that verb:

Virgin Galactic tests its new spacecraft<br />  

Virgin Galactic’s resurrected dreams of private spaceflight following the crash in 2014 centers around SpaceShipTwo.

That sentence was written about Virgin Galactic, not by them, so no discredit to VG. But the center is a point. You center on that point. If you want to go around, use rotate or revolve.

Using this verb correctly is one of those little things that not a lot of people notice, but doing so improves your writing.

Then there’s the verb “center” all by itself. Used that way, it’s some sort of new age thing meaning to concentrate on one idea, or something like that.

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The True Center

rogersgeorge on January 4th, 2014

Any math teacher (and, I presume, most high school graduates) can tell you that the center of a circle is a point. In fact, unless you’re talking about an organization (The Center for the Study of Oxymorons, for example), the center of pretty much everything is a point.

“Center” can also be a verb. It means something like “To pay attention to the center of something.” Even used metaphorically, “center” does not lose its pointiness. Hence, when you use a prepositional phrase as an adverb with this verb, use “on,” not “around.” You can revolve around, rotate around, dance around, beat around (the bush), even gallivant around, but can’t center around. You have to center on something. Here’s an example of correct usage, from a recent Christian Science Monitor article:

A popular dictionary, “Merriam-Webster,” reports that because of having the largest increase in online lookups, “science” was the “Word of the Year” for 2013. On its website, the publishing company’s editor at large, Peter Sokolowski, explains something of why this increase came about: “A wide variety of discussions centered on science this year, from climate change to educational policy. We saw heated debates about ‘phony’ science, or whether science held all the answers. It’s a topic that has great significance for us.”

I’d give an example of “centered around,” but it occurs only in writing that’s too lowbrow for me. Don’t you be lowbrow.

Correction. It’s Jan 15, and I ran into an example of “centered around” in an otherwise well-written article by someone who should know better.

Whereas early cop shows like Dragnet and Adam-12 were centered around a couple of officers who always got their man by the end of the hour, the full squad house of regulars on Hill Street Blues rarely resolved cases in one episode.

This from This Day in History on history.com. Shame on you, guys! You’re professionals. Harrumpf.