Totally Missing The Point?

Writers are totally, and probably literally, missing the point when they talk about ‘the stigma surrounding . . .’ something.

You’ve probably read it many times, and even used it yourself. The problem is that a stigma doesn’t ‘surround’ anything.

Missing the point: the stigma of lazy language

A stigma is a mark, with a negative connotation. If there were a stigma ‘surrounding’ you, you’d be laughing. It would have missed you altogether and you’d be clean, free and clear.

Here’s an example to think about.

Lazy Language version:

‘It’s time to end the stigma surrounding mental health’

There are quite a few things wrong here.

First, the word ‘surrounding’ has to be replaced. A better way to convey the idea would be to say ‘the stigma associated with …’

Second, you can’t really ‘end’ a stigma. Think of it as a synonym of ‘mark’ or ‘stain’, and you might say ‘erase’, ‘remove’, or ‘wipe away’.

Third, as a side note, ‘health’ is the wrong word here, too. Without an additional adjective (‘good’ or ‘poor’), the term ‘mental health’ is generally accepted, by default, to be a positive. No stigma in sight.

Correct version:

‘It’s time to remove the stigma associated with mental illness’, or ‘… the stigma of mental illness’

Still missing the point: focus on the centre

Here’s another piece of lazy language, and yet another case of missing the point:

‘The discussion centred around his difficulties’

Sorry, can’t be done! It would have to be centred on; ‘around’ is for circumferences — that is, going around in circles, which, admittedly, is what a lot of discussions do.

Any suggestion of a centre going ‘around’ anything is a contradiction in terms.

The same applies to the word ‘focus’. Consider this common error:

‘Our project will focus around improvements in sales’

You can’t focus ‘around’ anything, and even if you could, you’d certainly be missing the point again.

As with ‘centred’, the correct preposition to follow the word ‘focus’ is on.


  • The discussion centred on his difficulties, or
  • His difficulties were at the centre of the discussion
  • Our project will focus on improvements in sales, or
  • Improvements in sales will be the focus (or focal point) of our project

Rather than missing the point, try focusing on it!

See more examples of Lazy Language.