Reader Ileana D. asks about the use of concerning to mean "giving cause for anxiety or distress", in examples like.
I find her behavior very concerning.
The growing National Debt is concerning to me.
She notes that she sees this as a substitute for "of concern", says that she finds it "grating", and suggests that
This usage is increasing. I first heard it used in this way many years ago, but only by southerners. It has been creeping into formal usage (on the news, on NPR).
I'll leave the "grating" part aside for now — that sort of thing is between you and your spiritual and aesthetic advisors — and get right to the history.
The first thing to say is that this use of concerning is not new. The OED gives the gloss "That gives cause for anxiety or distress", and cites
1741 RICHARDSON Pamela II. 159, I cannot bear anything that is the least concerning to you.
The second thing to say is that it's commoner in spoken registers, but not very common anywhere, at least according to COCA. Here's the pattern for "very concerning" (numbers are frequencies per million words):
and for "concerning to me":
In 26 million words of conversational speech indexed at LDC Online, "very concerning" occurs just once (in the speech of a young man from the U.S. midlands region), and "concerning to" doesn't occur at all.
In the NYT index since 1981, "very concerning" occurs 24 times, all in quotations. By five-year interval, there are 2 hits in 1986-1990, 4 hits in 1991-1995, 4 hits in 1996-2000, 10 hits in 2001-2005, and 4 hits so far since 2006. In the same index, "concerning to" gets 17 hits: 1 in 1981-1985, 1 in 1986-1990, 1 in 1991-1995, 4 in 1996-2000, 6 in 2001-2005, and 4 so far since 2006. Most are in quotations, but not all, e.g. "But advancing issues led decliners by a weak 13-to-11 margin on the New York Stock Exchange, and, more concerning to some, the broad market showed signs of fatigue."
That's all consistent with the view that the frequency has increased somewhat in recent years, but I don't see any indication, in a quick scan of the story contexts, of an association with southerners.
Searching the NPR site turns up 10 instances of "very concerning" and 8 instances of "concerning to", compared to 620 instances of "of concern" and 73 of "of concern to". If concerning is really going to take over from of concern, Ileana is thus facing years of gradually increasing gradations of grating.
So here's some spiritual and aesthetic advice. Why not just give up, get over it, and look on the bright side? Concerning has plenty of standard precedents ("This is troubling/annoying/terrifying/grating") where a prepositional-phrase version would be odd (?"This is of trouble/annoyance/terror/gratingness"). In fact, of concern is a bit of an outlier, so you could see the change to concerning as a move in the direction of linguistic consistency.
This sort of advice is easier to give than to act on, of course. It rarely helps someone to get over an irrational aversion to point out that their aversion is, in fact, irrational. Still, there are some areas where cognitive therapy has been shown to have some efficacy, and anecdotal evidence suggests that this may be one of them.
And then again, some people enjoy watching the decay (as they see it) of everyone else's language. If you're one of them, then never mind, and many happy returns of the peeve.