What’s with this word “into”?

If I were to go round claiming that the square root of 100 is 15 or that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1783, I’d quite rightly be thought a fool. What’s more, I’m fairly sure most people wouldn’t hesitate to inform me of my ignorance.

So why is it that when it comes to the English language many business folk seem to think that getting it wrong makes them sound impressive?

And that, rather than being corrected, they are invariably emulated by their colleagues to the point where those of us who favour correct usage begin to doubt our own opinion? (Well, almost.)

Nowhere is the tendency to equate ignorance with eminence more acute than with prepositions. Prepositions are those small but essential linking words that convey ideas such as direction (“toward”, “through”), location (“on”, “out”) and time (“during”, “after”).

Let me give you an example. If I were say to you: “I’ll arrive into the party at nine”, you’d probably do a double take. In fact, you’d quite possibly find yourself reassessing your view of me as a native speaker of the English language.

And yet I was on a train recently when the conductor announced: “Ladies and gentleman, we will shortly be arriving into Euston.”

Does anyone in the real world ever say they’re arriving into Euston? Don’t trains normally arrive at their destination?

Now I know that prepositions are difficult to master in most languages. Indeed, on the many occasions I find myself daydreaming of Italy, I always have to think twice about whether I’d like to live “a Roma” or “in Roma”.

But I don’t believe that the announcement on the train had anything to do with a shaky grasp of English prepositions. I believe it was a very deliberate attempt to sound more formal and impressive by choosing the longer word “into” over the shorter, correct word “at”.

This word “into” seems to hold a similar attraction for those working in large corporations, who have a tendency to use the rather obscene-sounding phrase “report into” to describe their lines of accountability.

Why would anyone choose to “report into” their manager when the less yucky “report to” worked perfectly well for so long? I guess that, to those with less sensitive ears than I have, there’s something rather thrusting about “into” that makes it sound more dynamic than the correct preposition.

But it’s still wrong – and I’ll keep correcting you until you get it right.

This post is the first in a series of posts on the misuse of prepositions – coming soon “around”.

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13 Responses to “What’s with this word “into”?”

  1. Chris says:

    I wonder whether the idea of reporting ‘into’ a committee or department allows the reporter (maybe ‘reportee’ these days) to think less of the degree of accountability they have?

  2. Clare Lynch says:

    Ooh, I hadn’t thought of that, but now you mention it I can see what you mean.

    Somehow reporting “to” does seem to imply you’re taking more responsibility for your own actions than reporting “into”. The thrusting nature of “into” definitely has a “thank god that’s off MY desk” ring to it!

  3. Arthur Brash says:

    I think there is also the possibility of two sentences fused into one:
    “We will be pulling into Euston” and “We will be arriving at Euston.” Either way what you heard was really wrong. And the problem is likely that of people with limited understanding of the language taking liberties at “trying new things.”

    For 99/100 people out there, if you have NOT ever heard it used before, you probably should not be the first to try.

    The worst offense? A commercial on TV that keeps repeats three times “You don’t drive like her. Why should you pay premiums like her?” I block every network on the TV box that runs that awful, awful commercial (awful on every conceivable level.) I scream at the TV. “Drive like her what? Sister? Dog? Stuntman? Blind father?

    Argh.

  4. Brad Shorr says:

    In Chicago, I don’t hear “into” used in these ways very often, perhaps because we don’t have any trains going to Euston. However, in my neck of the woods, everybody is “into” something. They’re into exercise, they’re into jazz, they’re into gluten free. I think this usage is getting us into trouble.

  5. Clare Lynch says:

    Arthur – good point, I hadn’t thought of that. And you’re right, you should generally only experiment with the language if you have a full grasp of it- that old rule that it’s ok to break the rules so long as you understand the rules. The same goes for those who go round “reporting into”.

    Brad – and of course once you’re no longer “into” those various obsessions, another preposition becomes highly useful.

    I am so OVER gluten-free!

  6. real gent says:

    i have absolutely no comment to make other than to say that i’m really into your new anti-spam quiz.

    could we please have a post about people who say ‘where are you at?’ the redundancy of that fine two-lettered word drives me absolutely potty.

  7. Clare Lynch says:

    Thanks, real gent. I do I think I should make the quiz harder and more relevant to the topic of the blog. Perhaps make potential posters pass a gruelling apostrophe test before being given the chance to comment?

    I am actually planning a post on redundant prepositions, so thank you for bringing that example to my attention. That said, I don’t really mind it in that phrase if it’s being used idiomatically for “what on earth were you thinking, you fool!”

  8. Brad Shorr says:

    Clare, Into and over … what we really need here is parallel construction. Why not, I’m so OUT OF gluten-free? Perhaps making it one word, OUTOF, would be even better. Where are you and your other readers at on this?

  9. Clare Lynch says:

    Yikes, Brad, don’t get me started on people’s tendency to joinseparatewordstogether!

    I keep seeing “every day” written as “everyday”. Does it make me very sad that it offends my sensibilities to see the adjective + noun confused with the adjective?

    It’s particularly excruciating when such a mistake occurs in ten-foot type in a sign that’s clearly had a lot of money thrown at it!

  10. Clare Lynch says:

    Update:

    Today I heard an interviewee on Radio 4’s Today programme use the strange phrase “supply into”. Not only did he tell the presenter that his business “supplies into the retail market”, but also that “the supply of credit into the market has dried up”.

    In the words of Harry Blamires, author of The Penguin Guide to Plain English, “there is an epidemic of prepositional anarchy around”.

  11. Stuart says:

    Is there a national campaign I could join to stop the use of “arrive into”?
    If not, how can I start one?

    I’ve trawled the internet to see if I’m the only person in the world to be bothered by this (ab)usage – and so was releived to find this blog, but disappointed to see that it’s from 2009.

  12. Stuart says:

    Sorry, I meant to type “relieved”

  13. Clare Lynch says:

    Stuart – let’s start one today! We could align it with a sister campaign designed to halt the increasing use of the phrase “stopping point” in lieu of “station”.

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