A reader wrote recently to say that he enjoys reading our newspaper, but he added that he hoped the editors “will get around to hiring someone who is sufficiently adept at American English usage to eliminate some horrendous errors.” One of the “horrendous errors” he finds in our pages is “wait on” instead of “wait for.” He and others would keep “wait on” for the sense of standing by to serve, as in a waiter or a clerk waiting on customers. I don’t think that using “wait on” instead of “wait for” qualifies as “horrendous,” but, apparently, “wait on” is a regionalism that irritates some readers a great deal.
Here is how the phrase has been used in a story: “But Fowler still must wait on a subsidy for Xander, 3, before she’s able to return to work.” “Wait for” would work as well and would not offend those readers who can’t stand “wait on.”
In the American Heritage Book of English Usage the editors note that usage experts have railed against “wait on” for 100 years, but the editors don’t find the usage wrong. Theodore H. Bernstein in “The Careful Writer” calls “wait on” dialectal. (He means it’s used by rural Southerners, I guess.) Bryan A. Garner in “A Dictionary of American Usage” notes that “waits on” is not the best phrasing but “certainly can’t be labeled substandard.” But Professor Paul Brians advises writers not to use wait on in this nonstandard way.
I would probably say that I am waiting on my husband to pick me up, but I would write that I am waiting for my husband to give me a ride home.
This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.