More bored of than before

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Following up on this morning's "bored" post, I wrote a little script to query the NYT's index for the number of uses of "bored of" vs. "bored with" from 1981 to the present. Although the number are fairly small and thus somewhat unstable (in 1981 there were 72 instances of "bored with" and none of "bored of"; in 2008 there were 48 instances of "bored with" and 12 of "bored of"), the results lend further plausibility to the idea that there's a change in progress, with of gaining ground on with during the past decade:

[Update — Ray Girvan has supplied a table of numbers from  NewsBank (UK and Ireland newspaper online archive), which shows much the same pattern as the NYT, but with an apparently faster rate of change. (Or perhaps an earlier onset — the data is noisy enough that it's hard to tell…)

It's not clear whether this reflects a difference in regional varieties of English, with the UK and Ireland in the lead on this change, or a difference in local copyediting practices, with the NYT's copyeditors more conservative or more careful. I'm inclined to think that it's a genuine geographical difference — comparison with another U.S. paper, or a collection of papers, would help.]

Additional evidence for a change in progress comes from an examination of apparent-time effects in the LDC's collection of conversational telephone speech:

"bored of" (count) "bored with" (count)
Young speakers (20-39) 9 16
Middle-aged speakers (40-59) 12 70
Old speakers (60-69) 0 5

In this case, males seem to be leading the change (though I haven't verified that the effect is not due to a difference in age distribution in the fairly small subset of speakers who used either of these sequences — maybe younger men and older women are more likely to express boredom…):

"bored of" (count) "bored with" (count)
males 14 36
females 8 55

It might be interesting to take a look at some other sources with reliable dating.

[Update — as evidence that the (perception of) change is a both-sides-of-the-Atlantic thing, here's a paragraph from a long "kids these days" groaner in the (London) Times, "A levels: what is behind the falling standards?", July 10, 1976:

And Literature Online turns up 257 instances of "bored with", compared to only 6 instances of "bored of", three of which are bogus — Henry Howard Brownell's 1866 poem Lines, Kimposed A Bored of a Californy Male-Steemer. By a Parsinger., a mention elsewhere of "the most bored of women", and a 1991 poem containing this passage:

25   You'll fear some stroke has left me dumb,
26   bucolic, inward-looking, glum;
27      irrelevant, to boot.
28   It seems some others think this too;
29   each morning brings some short review,
30      bored, of my selected
31   verses, calls them 'quiet', 'true',
32   a man who woos a rural muse
33      and suitably dejected.

But one of the 3 genuine hits for "bored of" is Ezra Pound ranting about politics, from Redondillas, or something of that sort:

36   I demonstrate the breadth of my vision.
37   I am bored of this talk of the tariff,
38   I too have heard of T. Roosevelt.
39   I have met with the "Common Man,"
40   I admit that he usually bores me,
41   He is usually stupid or smug.
42   I praise God for a few royal fellows
43   like Plarr and Fred Vance and Whiteside,
44   I grant them fullest indulgence
45   each one for his own special queerness.

The date of composition is not clear, but the first cited copyright is 1926. (Pound also used "bored with" 7 times in other poems.)

The other two genuine "bored of" hits are a 1991 poem and 1994 novel.

This evidence, though thin, is consistent with a long-standing low rate of usage, whether by analogy to e.g. "tired of" or by reversion to the unmarked preposition "of", followed by recent vernacular change that started to leak into the written language in the 1990s. ]


  1. Dan Lufkin said,

    September 17, 2009 @ 5:21 pm

    I've sometimes thought about UK experience of vs US experience with and wonder if there is a parallel here. It seems to me that the logical preposition to use with bored is bored from. Or would that logical locus already be occupied by bore from within?

    So much to worry about, so little time.

  2. Sili said,

    September 17, 2009 @ 5:28 pm

    I think it's awesome that we've reached an age where these changes can be tracked pretty much in real time.

  3. Pliny said,

    September 17, 2009 @ 7:21 pm

    Have you noticed an increase in the conflation of "allow for" and "allow"? I mark undergraduate papers and I frequently see "allow for" when "allow" is clearly the intended meaning. Is this merely perception bias on my part or is the distinction being lost? Thanks.

  4. eloriane said,

    September 17, 2009 @ 8:28 pm

    I have to admit, it was surprising to me to find that "bored with" is the norm. I'm not sure if I've ever said "bored with" in my life! "Bored of" is the only one that sounds right to me, although I probably use other constructions avoiding the preposition more often (i.e., it bored me, I found it boring, etc.).

    I'm 20 years old, for the record– kids these days!

  5. Aaron Davies said,

    September 17, 2009 @ 9:30 pm

    buggery is boring. incest is relatively boring. necrophilia is dead boring.

  6. elin said,

    September 17, 2009 @ 10:48 pm

    i tried a (not particularly reliable or significant) comparison between "bored of" and "bored with" on the results were 424,000 hits for "bored of" and 679,000 hits for "bored with."

    this simply reflects google searches of the web (therefore, current usage, most likely) for the two terms.

    (on the other hand, it's a fun program to use for amusement, though i was first introduced to it by a colleague whose first language is persian, not english, who uses it to check out "correct", or at least common, usage in idioms.)

  7. John Cowan said,

    September 17, 2009 @ 10:49 pm

    What's this complaint about "compare to"? "Compare with" and "compare to" mean different things; the former points out differences in things normally seen as alike, the latter points out similarities (often just one) in things normally seen as different. Is it not so across the Pond?

  8. Carl said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 12:46 am

    The Brits have a lot of weird preposition use from the American point of view: different to, at the weekend, etc.

  9. Stephen Jones said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 12:50 am

    Just done a COCA and BNC search.

    'Bored with' is overwhelmingly both the American (641 – 43) and British (246 – 10) preference. The COCA shows a slight increase as we near the present (form 7 in 1990 – 1994 to 14 in 2005 – 2009) but I'm not at all sure it's significant.

    [(myl) The BNC collection was done in the early 1990s, before the change (in the written language anyhow) really got underway. And nine of the ten BNC hits are in conversation, email, quotation, or (one) extremely colloquial column ("Bully's Sporting Darts is a blimmin' good game…"), with the remaining one being in a reference to the punning 1936 movie title "Bored of Education".

    And COCA in 2007-2008 (23 to 4, 18 to 3) is not much different from the NYT in the same years (47 to 11, 48 to 12), just smaller overall (whether the difference over those two years is significant is hard to tell — a chi-squared test says "no". ]

  10. Ray Girvan said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 4:41 am

    Sili: I think it's awesome

    I was just thinking that. Those NYT and NewsBank searches took minutes to conduct research that would have taken a Victorian researcher probably decades poring through print newspaper archives.

  11. Emily said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 5:47 am

    @Carl: "The Brits have a lot of weird preposition use from the American point of view: different to, at the weekend, etc."

    Whoa! I'm British and I have to ask… what do Americans say instead of "at the weekend"?

  12. Emily said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 6:15 am

    I've noticed that as a native speaker of English I have problems with prepositions sometimes. One that struck me recently when I was trying to translate a grammar exercise from Russian: do we say "He blushed out of shame"? "From shame"? "With shame"? "In shame"? "He blushed in shame" sounds just fine grammatically to me (I think… now that I read it again I'm not quite so sure), but it sounds as though it's somehow missing the direct expression of cause-and-effect that "He blushed from shame" has. Yet that one sounds… not outright ungrammatical, but marked. I think. …And so on. This isn't the only example where I've found something similar with prepositions.

    "Bored of" isn't one of the problematic ones to me, though! That sounds completely fine and I'm fairly sure I would use it even in a formal context without hesitation. I had to give some thought to what the alternative option would even be, and I'm pretty surprised to see that "bored with" is actually more common.

    I'm 19 and British.

  13. Roy said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 7:45 am

    Emily asks, "what do Americans say instead of 'at the weekend'?"

    This particular American usually says "on the weekend", or (depending on context) "by", but I've freely admitted before that I tend to be prepositionally-challenged. (BTW, I'm a "bored with" guy, myself.)

  14. Roy said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 7:46 am

    oh, and my age demographic puts me in the 55-60 age group.

  15. Ray Girvan said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 8:22 am

    It looks like another of those age/attitude multifactor things. I'm 53, generally descriptivist. "Bored with" feels more instinctive, but I use "bored of" sometimes; I don't feel the choice anything to get aerated about. I just ran it past … erm … someone at a nearby desk, who's late 60s and generally prescriptivist, and to them "bored of" is unequivocably "English giving in to the lowest common denominator".

  16. ø said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 8:47 am

    To me (in NE US), "bored of" appears to be a recent young people's innovation, irritating/amusing to an old (55yo) fogey. I imagine it to be based on (or as the same kids might say "based off") the model of "tired of".

    When we were their age we just said "I'm bored" (not specifying of/by/with what) or "X is boring". And of course kids weren't so easily bored in those days. Why, we had to make our own entertainment …

  17. Franz Bebop said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 9:45 am

    Harvard Lampoon published "Bored of the Rings" in 1993.

    I say we blame it all on them.

  18. Mr Punch said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 10:03 am

    To generalize from my post in the prior thread — it seems to me that the cases similar to "bored" proposed above support the notion that the confusion of prepositions is related to a diminution of perceived connection between the adjectival forms (bored, tired) and the less commonly used verbs (bore, tire).

  19. osaraba said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 10:37 am

    "Bored of" sounds terribly wrong to me; I generally use "bored by" or "bored with" depending, I think, on whether the thing I'm bored by is an habitual action or not. (That is, I generally use "with" with habitual actions.)

    For perspective, I'm 28 and a native New Yorker.

  20. Paul Wilkins said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 11:05 am

    38 YO M votes: bored of.

    We'll bend that curve further in our direction yet!

  21. Nichim said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 11:35 am

    I'm 33, I live in the NW US (but raised in NE), and I would never use "bored with" in an inchoative context such as "I soon got bored with that game/relationship/etc." (although interesting "I soon became bored with X" is okay if I were taking a bit of a high tone). "I got bored of X" is the only option. The analogy with "tired of" seems reasonable. In an instrumental context, however, "bored with" is appropriate: "Jan bored us with his political commentary for hours."

  22. Kenny V said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 11:47 am

    yeah, definitely on analogy with "tired of."

  23. Bloix said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

    "At the weekend."

    Here's a quote from the artist Damien Hirst:
    Most people live in the city and go to the country at the weekend, and that's posh and aristocratic, but actually to live in the country and come to London when you can't take it any more is different.

    An American would say "for the weekend."

  24. Bloix said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 12:14 pm

    "Bored with/of/by"

    The Washington Post, in its advice column for twenty-somethings, uses "bored by" in a cartoon caption in today's paper. "Your problems would solve themselves if you were as bored by your relationship as I am."

  25. Andrew said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

    Bloix: a Brit might well say 'for the weekend' as well. That would imply that I'm going there for the whole weekend, though; if I go to the country from 2-6 p.m. on Saturday I'm going there at the weekend, but not for the weekend.

    John Cowan: I agree that there's a distinction, but wouldn't put it quite the same way as you. 'Compare to' does indeed mean point out likenesses, but 'compare with' means consider how alike two things are, and might involve pointing out both similarities and differences.

    I don't think, though, that this distinction is universally shared. I remember a debate about this in one of the British papers. Someone cited Shakespeare's 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?' as evidence that 'compare to' can mean the same as 'compare with'. I would read the lines as meaning 'Shall I compare [liken] you to a summer's day? [No, such a comparison would clearly be inappropriate, because] you are more lovely and more temperate'. He, however, seemed to read it as 'Shall I compare [and contrast] you with a summer's day? [Yes, here goes:] you are more lovely and more temperate'.

  26. D. Sky Onosson said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 1:53 pm

    The first thing I thought of when comparing "bored of" and "bored with" in my mind, is that "bored of" in rapid speech reduces the "of" to a brief (and unstressed) schwa. "Bored with" doesn't seem to abbreviate quite so much, and not in the same place (more likely that the 'th' would be dropped or altered in some way). Perhaps this is a factor in the growth in "bored of" usage – how well it lends itself to rapid speech?

  27. Tim said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

    "…if I go to the country from 2-6 p.m. on Saturday I'm going there at the weekend, but not for the weekend."

    In my experience, an American would be going there "this weekend", sans preposition entirely. Unless that's just my (Midwestern) dialect.

  28. dr pepper said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 4:23 pm


    "He don't exclaim, "I blush for shame'"

  29. dr pepper said,

    September 18, 2009 @ 4:23 pm

    "Bored of the Rings" came out a lot earlier than 93.

    [(myl) And the movie "Bored of Education" came out in 1936. But I believe that both of these puns represent a different process, and don't tell us much if anything about the prepositional preferences of bored at the time.

    The main relevance is that a (considerable) fraction of earlier "bored of" hits come from such sources (though more have to do with mining or machine-shop boring).]

  30. DGW said,

    September 19, 2009 @ 12:20 am

    An analogous (at a glance) case: "irked with" (the usual usage, I think) vs. "irked of" (apparently an old occasional usage). Again, "by" is also a possibility.

  31. Kiwi Dave said,

    September 19, 2009 @ 6:42 am

    This aged antipodean always said 'in the weekend' or, less often, 'on the weekend' until I went to teach ESL in Hong Kong and the textbooks said 'at the weekend'.

    Tim: not just your dialect. In the same context I also use 'this weekend' for the coming weekend, as well 'in the weekend'.

  32. Stephen Jones said,

    September 19, 2009 @ 7:41 am

    'bored by' appears to be fairly stable. More common than 'bored of' but still trailing 'bored with'. Of course as EFL teachers know, 'by' and 'with' seem to converge in some foreign languages.

  33. Stephen Jones said,

    September 19, 2009 @ 7:43 am

    But not thinking quickly enough, I'm forgetting that most of the 'bored by's are passives.

  34. Aaron Davies said,

    September 20, 2009 @ 1:53 pm

    the discussion of “at the weekend” reminds me of singaporeans' tendency to say "as at" to refer to specific points in time, where i'd say “as of” (e.g. standard officialese, “information is correct as at $DATE”).

  35. Karin Golde said,

    September 22, 2009 @ 1:02 am

    First thing that came to my mind was the 1981 song "Bored of You" by Agent Orange (SoCal punk band). The lyrics also contain a lot of lines starting with "sick of" ("I'm sick of boring bands…") – don't know how that construction relates historically.

    For me, it's always "bored of" if I'm saying it… that's from a 39 year old NoCal native.

  36. George said,

    September 22, 2009 @ 5:45 am

    Off topic but prompted by Ray Girvan's use of the expression "English giving in to the lowest common denominator" in his comment of September 18, 2009 @ 8:22 am.

    I don't know if Language Log has ever done a posting on "Lowest Common Denominator", an expression I find very odd, as the sense it conveys in cultural commentary would – it seems to me – be better (albeit imperfectly) expressed by the use of "Highest Common Factor". When did people start using it in its current non-arithmetical meaning?

    And does it annoy anybody else as much as it annoys me? (Not that I'm suggesting people shouldn't be allowed to use it, of course…. I'm not one of your dreaded prescriptivists!)

  37. George said,

    September 22, 2009 @ 5:54 am

    Just to be clear, I assume that it gained currency because of the connotations of the words "lowest" and "common" (as in "common as muck", rather than "held in common"). But how far back does it go?

  38. Ray Girvan said,

    September 24, 2009 @ 9:52 pm


    Earliest in the OED is 1946: R. A. KNOX Epistles & Gospels 56, "He wants the would-be-clever people to cultivate..a lowest-common-denominator sort of mind".

    The Times has a definitely pejorative example for Mar 26, 1923: "… to increase the money value of a newspaper by bringing it down to the level of the lowest common denominator, the child-mind; that kind of person ought to be helped up the scale of evolution and not be pushed down".

    Cosmopolitan, v. 25 – 1898: "Why should we not accept the lowest common denominator of humanity – the cannibal?"

    And there seem to be others 1880ish (but it's late here).

    It annoys me a lot, not because of its non-mathematical usage, but because it's essentially just classist abuse.

  39. Sarah Currier said,

    September 25, 2009 @ 5:33 am

    Excellent! Have only just seen and commented on the original post, which was sparked by an email from me. Am glad to have validation of my perception that this is new, and that in my lifetime it has been considered incorrect usage. Am sad that I'm going to have to get used to it, because I can't turn back the tide. Am happy that there are people in the world who share my interest in this kind of minutiae.

    Sorry, meant to say, am happy that there are people in the world who share my interest in this kind with minutiae.

  40. George said,

    September 25, 2009 @ 7:55 am


    Thanks for that. I'll admit to being surprised at how far back it goes.

    I get your point about classist abuse in the language context but the idea that the expression is intended to convey isn't necessarily a snobbish one (in my opinion anyway) when we are discussing – for example – the rise of reality TV.

    Neither is the fact that it is used in a non-mathematical context what annoys me; rather, it is the fact that it is simply the wrong mathematical metaphor for the idea being expressed.

    We all know (or should know if we didn't fall asleep in school) that if I want to add, say, 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/5, then the lowest common denominator is 30. In other words, the lowest common denominator (in this instance) is higher than the denominators of any of the fractions I started off with. Whatever fractions I start off with (assuming that the fractions have been expressed in their simplest form), the lowest common denominator will be at least as high as the highest of the original denominators.

    If we assume that the TV executive isn't so much thinking "How low can I go?" as "How low do I have to go to maximise audience figures?", then the appropriate metaphor would surely be the highest common factor. (And if the metaphor is imperfect, it would only be because some TV executives appear to overshoot the mark!)

    Likewise, if I'm addressing (in English) a group of people of varied levels of competence in English, I don't say to myself "How simple can I make my language?" but "How simple do I have to make my language to ensure that everybody understands me?". So, again, what I come out with is not "lowest common denominator English" but "highest common factor English".

    I happen to work in an area (development assistance) where situations like that in my second example are quite common. We also produce documents in English that are read by large numbers of non-native speakers. And every time I hear or see the term "lowest common denominator" (which crops up in all sorts of contexts, not just language and culture), I am struck by the fact that a non-native speaker unfamiliar with the expression would, if they tried to use their memories of school maths classes to work out what it might mean, probably misinterpret it.

    And I've just realised that I must have written about 400 words here. Jaysus, I'm one sad git.

  41. George said,

    September 25, 2009 @ 8:28 am

    400 words in a comment on a post that is over a week old and that is no longer on the front page of the site. 400 words that are unlikely to be read by anyone. There's some metaphor about trees falling in woods that may be appropriate… or maybe not….

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