From the Archives: Elizabeth Yagoda is Hungry for a Hamburger

Where’s the outrage?

People never stop getting upset about changes in the use of pronouns (“thanks for inviting me wife and me/I”), verbs (comprise/compose), and nouns (data is/data are ), but, with the exception of occasional squawks about those who say “different than” (or, in Britain, “different to”) instead of “different from,” they don’t seem to give a hoot about the pervasive phenomenon I call “preposition creep.”

Three examples come to mind. First is the change from enamored of  to enamored with. As the Google Ngram Viewer chart below shows, in 1920, enamored with barely existed, but by 2008 (the last year for which Google provides data), it was used more than half as commonly as the traditional enamored of.

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By now, in all but the most closely edited circles, with is way ahead. Plugging the phrases into Google’s blog-search function yields 206,000 hits for enamored of and 770,000 for enamored with. (To add to the mix, enamored by has recently gotten some play.)

A similar process has happened with obsessed. Let’s go to Ngram Viewer.

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The very notion of being obsessed was apparently invented in about 1900 and for 40 years or so the two prepositions associated with it were in lock step. Then with started to crush by, and kept on crushing. Lately, I’ve noticed another variant. Last year, talk show host Joe Scarborough criticized Republicans for being “obsessed on hating Barack Obama.” And at the White House Correspondents Dinner” last week, Obama himself remarked that Washington is “obsessed on the midterms.”

In a similar case, bored by and bored with used to be about equally popular, then withtook off in the early 20th century and now dominates. There’s a cheeky newcomer here, too—bored of. (You can see the graph here.)

Why does this happen? It seems clear that in the case of enamored the new version was modeled on the expression in love with, and eventually gained power and momentum. With obsessed and bored, it’s a bit more complicated, a change in the verb’s role. If I say that “A is obsessed by B,” then B is doing the obsessing, in a sort of witchcraft model. But “A is obsessed with B” is more about A, and his or her mental state. That suggests that since the 1920s, people have wanted to talk about what’s going on in their heads, which sounds right.

That leads me to an even newer case of preposition creep, excited for.There are a lot of wrinkles in this one. The word excite was for centuries used to mean stimulate, in an electromagnetic, biological, emotional, or sexual sense. Excited took on its current connotation of having strongly positive anticipatory feelings only in about 1900. Thenceforth, for most of the century, excited for meant enthusiastic about [someone’s] good fortune, prospects, etc. To link such enthusiasm to an event or object, we’d say “excited about X”; with an activity, “excited about Y-ing.”

Then, in an excited reboot, the two sorts of objects were split. Now, one is “excited to [verb]“ and “excited for [noun].” I can’t date the origin of the usages precisely, but I believe excited for, in particular, has established itself in the last twenty years–probably not long before 2000, when an Al Gore staffer was quoted as saying, “I’m ridiculously excited for the campaign to set up its war room next month.” But clearly, in the last few years it’s taken off, notably among the young. A Google Blog search for excited foryielded 14.9 million hits (excited about got 26.2 million), and none on the first two screens were in the traditional form of “excited for your [someone else’s] fortune.” Some from the first screen:

  • “NBA Players Excited for NFL Draft” (sports-blog headline)

  • “‘Cosmos’ gets kids excited for science” (local television station headline)

  • “It’ll be hard focusing on this season and not my future college season since I’m so excited for college.” (Quote from a high-school football player)
  • “Katy Perry Gets Excited for Prismatic World Tour With a Poem” (headline on British MTV website)
  • “Normal West students excited for Prom 2014.” (headline in a high-school newspaper)

There’s no model for excited for, or, rather, the model is weird. I’m referring to hungry for, and it’s weird because that expression, too, has recently changed. Traditionally,hungry was a quality of lacking, needing, or craving food, without regard to what kind of food. The phrase hungry for existed, but almost always used metaphorically, as in<i”>Richard III, where Queen Margaret says, “Bear with me; I am hungry for revenge.” TheOxford English has the phrase 31 times in citations, including references to hungry for pleasure, knowledge, music, and sensuous encounters. (The OED doesn’t include the joke “I had dinner in a German restaurant. A half-hour later, I was hungry for power.”)

I believe that the first time I heard hungry for to mean “in the mood for a certain food item” was from my daughter Elizabeth Yagoda (born 1988), who was wont to say things like “I’m hungry for a hamburger.” (Still is, for that matter.) It’s a perfectly sensible construction. The main alternatives are “I’m in the mood for” and “I feel like,” neither of which is exactly the same thing. The latter also leaves you open to the lame comeback, “Funny, you don’t look like a hamburger.” I’m obsessed with the idea that Elizabeth and her generation saw a need for hungry for, invented it, and, when they got a little older, customized excited along the same lines.

Read the original article at Lingua Franca