Etymology Usage

Trend games

Q: Would you please discuss the trend of using “trending” in news reports? It seems to have cropped up in the past few months and is now ubiquitous. Nary a news report goes by without saying, “Here’s what’s trending.” It rubs me the wrong way.

A: We find this usage a bit trendy, but it doesn’t bug us all that much. If it gets used too much, it’ll lose its trendiness and you’ll be hearing less of it.

The present participle “trending” is being used here to indicate news that’s hot or breaking or engaging or noteworthy or otherwise interesting (at least to the editors).

The CNN website, for example, often begins headlines with this participle: “TRENDING: McCain cautions Christie” … “TRENDING: Palin threatens lawsuit over book” … “TRENDING: Senators place blame for budget stalemate.”

Although standard dictionaries don’t mention this precise sense in their entries for the verb “trend,” it does call to mind one common meaning of the noun “trend”: a new and popular style or fashion.

When the verb entered English more than a thousand years ago, it meant to revolve or rotate or roll, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, but that sense is now considered obsolete.

In the late 16th century, the verb took on one of its contemporary meanings: to extend in a general direction or follow a general course (as in, “The path trends to the north”).

It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the verb took on the figurative sense that’s common today: to show a tendency or a shift (“Opinions now trend in the conservative direction”).

The OED’s earliest citation for this figurative use is from the British novelist George Alfred Lawrence’s 1863 account of his failed attempt to fight for the Confederacy:

“In which direction do the sympathies and interests of the Border States actually trend?”

Be patient! Trendy usages tend to be overworked and become stale. Eventually, they rub enough people the wrong way … and then they aren’t trendy anymore.

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