Speak to

  • The phrasal verb speak to is widely used idiomatically to convey various senses, including show, demonstrateexpressrelate to, address, or speak about. For example, one might say that this post speaks to the meaning of speak to, or that the existence of this idiom speaks to a gap in the language, or that these examples speak to how the phrase is commonly used. The phrase could usually give way to a one-word synonym, but people seem to like using it, especially in speech.


    Because the phrase speak to is also widely used in other ways, tracing the exact origin of the newer use is difficult without exhaustive research. For what it’s worth, however, historical Google News and Google Books searches limited to pre-1990 texts uncover no instances (or very few, as we might be overlooking some) of speak to used this way, whereas a substantial number of examples are to be found from the middle 1990s. By the early 2000s, the idiom is ubiquitous.



    Why the Duma would give pause on a bill that is supported by more than three-quarters of the population according to some polls … speaks to the delicacy of the gay rights issue in Russia. [Financial Times]

    It is an authentic strategic governance action that speaks to the essentials of the board’s role and responsibilities. [Good Governance for Nonprofits, Fredric L. Laughlin and Robert C. Andringa]

    But the use of Geronimo’s name speaks to the powerful, if unexamined, hold that the nation’s “Indian wars” continue to have on our popular consciousness. [Los Angeles Times]

    It seems important to speak to that struggle, the struggle for meaning and truth in life. [Discovering Darkness in the Light, Dana DeSimon]

    The talent and enthusiasm on display in this competition speaks to the country’s enormous human capital. [Wall Street Journal]


    1. grammarist.milkbadger says

      At the corporation I work for, the phrase “speak to” (as a synonym for “speak about”) often carries a connotation that isn’t captured by any of the alternatives you’ve listed, namely, “to speak about in an authoritative or knowledgeable way”:

      On the issue of XYZ, I’ll defer to John. He can speak to that.

    2. I am damned bothered by this usage – as with so many others – are people trying to be cute, or sound profound, or what?

    3. The widespread adoption of this idiom speaks to the lack of poetry in the world today – going forward, naturally.

    4. Have been bothered by this absurd idiom since it’s advent. It is symptomatic of our declining age.

    5. wgallamore says

      I am sick to DEATH of hearing it.

    6. Sugarpants says

      English is fucking falling apart. What the dingalings who adopt silly usages like this don’t realize, is that there are children and people who speak English as a second language listening. And so these asinine trendy usages put down roots, and civilization decays, foundation-less, along with the stupid, empty language, because some self-congratulatory nincompoop was so bored and bereft of any human authenticity that he or she had to mangle the language in order to cobble together a pile of bullshit masquerading as a self-image.

    7. I think it may originate from the popularity among a certain set of the old Quaker phrase, “speaking truth to power.”

    8. Sarebolth says

      I agree. I hate this idiom and wish it would self-terminate.

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