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  1. Member
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    #1

    called the police on a volunteer

    About 3 years ago, we had a woman whom I will call "Susan" join our group. Right off the bat, Susan was causing drama and even called the police on a volunteer who changed the password on our adoption site without telling anyone.

    Hi,
    The above is from Annie's column. How should I interpret the bold faced on? Is it equal to about in meaning? Thanks.

  2. VIP Member
    Interested in Language
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    #2

    Re: called the police on a volunteer

    The phrase is a common way to say reported the volunteer to the police.
    I am not a teacher.

  3. Phaedrus's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: called the police on a volunteer

    . . . Susan was causing drama and even called the police on a volunteer . . . .
    That is an interesting use of "on," isn't it? It doesn't mean "about" exactly. Nor does it mean "on account of," though initially that seemed an attractive expansion to me. Being unable to come up with a good equivalent, I checked Seth Lindstromberg's English Prepositions Explained (John Benjamins, 2010). He characterizes this use of "on" as metaphorical. Burdens are conceptualized as being borne on one's person, like a heavy sack of potatoes.

    When we refer to events that constitute burdens, we sometimes employ "on" in that metaphorical sense. Reporting people to the police places a burden upon those reported. They are going to have to answer to the police, whether or not they did anything wrong or get arrested. Here are some sentences cited by Lindstromberg (p. 61) in which "on" is used similarly:

    "He drew a gun on a team-mate."
    "Don't take it [~ your anger] out on me."
    "His wife's lover 'blew the whistle' on him for insider trading."

    Let me see if I can bring a few to mind myself:

    "Their car broke down on them."
    "My computer keeps freezing up on me."
    "I'm telling on you!"

  4. Moderator
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    #4

    Re: called the police on a volunteer

    What is Annie's column, LewisJian?

  5. VIP Member
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    #5

    Re: called the police on a volunteer

    I believe she is referring to an advice column that runs in the newspapers. Ann Landers was one of the famous ones in the US, and the column lived on after her death as "Annie's Mailbox."

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