Sean Spicer was originally described as hiding in the bushes, but the Washington Post later changed the story to describe him as among bushes. Does the preposition matter?
We had hot prepositions news yesterday when Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, strategically used bushes to dodge reporters on the White House grounds. The original Washington Post story said that Spicer “spent several minutes hidden in the bushes.” But later that night, the preposition changed. The Post added an editor’s note stating that the story had been updated to more precisely describe Spicer’s location: “Spicer huddled with his staff among bushes…not ‘in the bushes,’ as the story originally stated.”
Twitter filled up with jokes about Spicer eventually agreeing to be on the Zach Galifianakis show “Between Two Ferns.”
The year is 2018. A depressed Sean Spicer finally agrees to appear on "Between Two Ferns," which has been renamed "Among Two Bushes" — Zach Schonfeld (@zzzzaaaacccchhh) May 11, 2017
But this is exactly the kind of question that people who are learning English ask me: What’s the difference between in the bushes and among bushes? Is one right and the other wrong? Prepositions are tough. In the bushes is far more common than among bushes.
Among bushes sounds awkward to me, and the phrase hid among bushes is almost nonexistent in the Google Books corpus—the database of text that Google has made by scanning books.
Yet, hid among bushes does seem to have a different meaning from hid in the bushes. When I think of someone hiding in the bushes, I think of someone with his feet in the dirt, possibly crouching, and with branches in his face. It feels seedy and nefarious. Maybe because they're so rare, the phrases hid among the bushes or huddled among the bushes don’t evoke any image for me. If I think about it for awhile, I imagine someone just standing on grass next to a bush, which is probably why they asked for the correction. The difference between hidden and huddled probably changes the image too.
Nevertheless, the correction went viral on Twitter and Victoria McGrane, a political reporter for the Boston Globe, noted that you should be careful what you demand a correction about because all it did was draw fresh attention to the fact that Spicer was trying to avoid reporters.
If you were wondering about the prepositions, in nearly all cases, the preposition you want is in. People are usually hiding in the bushes. And Sean Spicer and Zach Galifianakis, I would definitely watch that episode of “Between Two Ferns.”
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