5

Is this phrase correct?

"Smoke and mirrors keep us waiting ON a miracle"
("Let Me Love You" Justin Bieber)

looked up in the browser and found out that

to WAIT ON is to bring a meal for someone. And this meaning isn't suitable actually. I assume in this song "wait on" is used like "wait for a miracle" or "believe in a miracle". What can you tell me about it?

ADD: Guys, really thank you for your help. Yeah, i agree with SimonH that first of all i need to learn proper English, which i really want to do and try to do. As i understand, "WAIT ON" can exist like "WAIT FOR" but only with my english-spoken friends. And i'd better avoid using it at school, moreover while i'm sitting my exams. THANK YOU AGAIN ;)

  • 3
    Song lyrics are not usually a good place to look for strictly correct grammar and usage, because they're written to sound good, not to be absolutely correct. – stangdon Jan 12 '17 at 13:57
  • 2
    Related: english.stackexchange.com/q/44452/64632 where there is a lot of information. – Chenmunka Jan 12 '17 at 15:38
  • 1
    If you're looking to improve proper English, please, never use "i", always "I". – J.R. Jan 12 '17 at 21:59
11

Wait on is a colloquial variant of wait for ; it is not acceptable in formal discourse.

In my experience the two are practically equivalent, except that there may be some slight tendency to prefer on when the wait is caused by a delay.

ADDED:
Just to clarify: in Bieber's song wait on is a colloquial variant of wait for something or someone. There is also a formal use of wait on, now virtually obsolete except in historical contexts, meaning "attend, hold oneself in readiness to serve" a superior. This is (for instance) the sense you encounter when Samuel Pepys writes "Thence to White Hall, and we waited on the Duke", or in the title "Lady-in-Waiting"; and this sense is the source of the still-current use with servers in a restaurant.

  • 4
    I also think that putting aside the constraints relating to it being "colloquial-only", AND the fact that even there it's not really my "default preposition" anyway, the chances of me saying We're waiting on John are greater if John should have arrived by now. As opposed to We're waiting for John, which would also be fine if it just so happens that John is the last of the group to arrive, but this isn't necessarily a matter of remark or concern. Given two alternative equally credible phrasings, it's always likely a distinction will arise over time. – FumbleFingers Jan 12 '17 at 14:10
  • 2
    Colloquial perhaps but the Rolling Stones recorded "Waiting on a Friend" in 1981, and you can find references that go much further back, including formal documents. Perhaps it was wrong then as well. – Andrew Jan 12 '17 at 15:00
  • 1
    @Andrew Well, you don't get much more colloquial than Mick & Co. And I think that you'll find that older formal uses of waiting on have the old meaning of attending, holding oneself in readiness to serve, which is broad sense from which the restaurant sense derives. – StoneyB Jan 12 '17 at 17:35
  • 2
    Thinking of how I have used "wait on", or heard it used, there may be a slight nuance of "impatience", as there is an unequal relationship and I have been forced to wait on someone else's convenience. Although as others have said, being American, we use "incorrect" English all the time. – Andrew Jan 12 '17 at 17:35
  • 1
    @Andrew Yes! Colloquial. Common. Yes. Proper English, not yet. The language changes constantly. When I was a child if I said "It's me." I'd have been in trouble at school. "It is I", was the only acceptable way to answer. I cannot remember the last time I used "It is I." in any conversation. No one uses it and now, few teachers would correct it. – WRX Jan 12 '17 at 17:37
3

I would interpret the phrase "to wait on a miracle" as having a different meaning from "to wait for a miracle". Which preposition is more appropriate would depend upon which meaning was intended.

At least by my interpretation, "to wait on object X" means "to watch for X to perform some expected action, while setting aside all other tasks". By contrast, "to wait for object X" would mean that one is refraining from performing at least some task until X arrives, but does not imply that one is setting aside all--or even most--other tasks.

Waiting "on" a miracle would, metaphorically, suggest that there is a "miracle has occurred" light and one is focused exclusively on watching that light. By contrast, waiting "for" a miracle would imply that there are some things one is expecting to do if/when the miracle occurs, but in the meantime one may do other things.

  • 1
    As a native speaker of American English, I agree completely with this distinction; it matches how I have heard the phrases used and how I would use them myself. This distinction was also mentioned in a comment on the accepted answer. – Wildcard Jan 13 '17 at 0:05
2

My generation did not ever use 'wait on' unless it was specific to a server waiting on patrons in a restaurant or at a dinner party. A maid or butler would wait on you as well.

Now, most of us do not have maids or butlers and the only person 'waiting on' us is a wait person/ server.

I am waiting for the bus. I am waiting for spring.

In writing, waiting for is the accepted usage outside of the server/maid example. In speech, it is slang/colloquial (but not yet 'correct'*) for people to say, "I'm waiting on the bus." In writing that would mean you are literally waiting on the bus for an event to happen. "We waited on the bus, for the driver to arrive." This means we were inside, on the bus while we waited.

I said not correct* because if you are in a formal setting and trying to impress a potential employer or anyone important to you that you have some education, you should try not to use colloquialisms -- unless you fully understand them. It doesn't matter what those might be. Slang or colloquial speech is still unacceptable in some situations. Until you know those situations, I'd suggest you speak more formally. Everyone will understand you. ON EDIT: Here is a link -- but you can google this easily.

I don't know if this is the same where you are from, but I automatically do not use swear words in many situations. I don't need to be told or have it explained. I just know not to swear at my teacher, the boss, a child, and so on. Other colloquialisms are similar. "Wassup?" might be perfectly acceptable to your group of friends, but totally unacceptable to your potential boss.

Justin Bieber is writing poetry/lyrics. There's a lot of leeway and license given to artists in their choice of phrasing and word usage.

  • 1
    Just how old are you? The Rolling Stones recorded "Waiting on a Friend" in 1981, and there are numerous references to "wait on" long before that, including this "Report on the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts" from 1879, "I am obliged to wait on the Prince Melkinbourg this morning to soil him a horse, and being afraid I could not wait on you time enough before you would send away your letters" – Andrew Jan 12 '17 at 14:58
  • 1
    @Andrew: Those 19th century references use the sense of wait on meaning serve, not wait for. – Chenmunka Jan 12 '17 at 15:08
  • 1
    I am in my sixties and those references you used mean "serve". Last time I checked, The Rolling Stones were artists and (though not anything like Bieber) using artistic license. – WRX Jan 12 '17 at 15:15
  • 2
    Do you understand what I meant by artistic license? Poetic license? It means that the artist can change the facts or use words for their own use. Advertisers do this often. :"Help us help you." Properly written it should be, "Help us to help you." However, we understand it. It is artistic license to make words work for the writer/poet/artist. – WRX Jan 12 '17 at 15:50
  • 2
    @J.R. I can also go find references that agree with my pov. here is one as 'good' as wiktionary Suffice it to say, we disagree. Okay! – WRX Jan 12 '17 at 15:59
2

As there seems to be a lot of debate in the comments on this I thought I should post the Oxford Learner's Dictionary opinion on this.

wait on somebody | wait on something
(informal, especially North American English) to wait for something to happen before you do or decide something

She is waiting on the result of a blood test.

And by "informal" the OED means "suitable for normal conversation and writing to friends rather than for serious speech and letters".

  • "Or if you are an American, and you commonly speak what passes for English in those former colonies". But all joking aside, this is a good example of a phrase which would pass unnoticed on one side of the Atlantic but get you funny looks on the other. Unfortunately, English is widely spoken and there are many dialects. Just do your best. – Andrew Jan 12 '17 at 18:06
  • This is the website for the OED or Oxford English Dictionary. Is this what you are citing or quoting? – AmE speaker Jan 12 '17 at 20:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.