« previous post | next post »

Recently, we've been talking, here and here, about the choice of preposition to go with the adjective bored: the older with (or by) or the innovative (and now spreading) of. Commenters added some other choices of of where another preposition might have been expected: with the adjectives concerned, embarrassed, and fed up; and with verbs in appreciate of and succumb of. There are several possible routes to these usages — analogy with P choice for semantically similar words (bored of on analogy with tired of), blending (bored of = bored with x tired of), and reversion to of as the default P in English — but the cases are at least superficially similar (though they are probably not related at a deeper level; people with one of these usages can't be expected to have any, or all, of the others).

And then a commenter (on the first of these postings) moved to a very different case; dw asked about off of, adding, "It drives me nuts". The only thing that this case — of what some handbooks term "intrusive" of in combination with certain prepositions — has to do with things like bored of is that the word of is involved. Still, people like dw, and a great many usage critics as well, are inclined to "bundle" disparate phenomena under a single heading for no reason beyond the involvement of a particular word. As I said recently, people are inclined to "blame it on a word".

I'll say a bit about "intrusive" of in a moment, but first another case of P choice in which of is one of the possibilities: in time expressions like a quarter to/till/before/of 2, discussed on Language Log a couple of years ago. (Here, of is a distinctly American option.) But I don't see that there's any relationship between this case and P choice with adjectives and verbs.

On to "intrusive" of. Here, many commenters bundle P + of (in alongside/inside/off/out/outside of) together the of that appears in one variant of exceptional degree modification (the much-reviled too big of a dog as an alternative to too big a dog), but the two phenomena have nothing to do with one another beyond that of.

There's extensive discussion of the five P + of cases above in this course handout of mine. For these, there’s a separate story for each one (though some handbooks recommend against P + of in general): plain out is extremely restricted; outside of is not colloquial (except in one sense); off of is somewhat on the conversational side; etc. Off of is the combination that gets the heaviest criticism, though I don't think that on the evidence of actual use, it can be classified as non-standard — on the colloquial side, but not non-standard.

My 2007 posting on prepositions in time expressions went on to unearth some genuinely non-standard occurrences of P + of (underneath of and others) and to examine a relatively extreme case of bundling, in Rudolf Flesch's entry for of in The ABC of Style. Flesch sternly pronounces that "of is a weed that should be pulled out of all sentences where it doesn't belong" and gives a series of examples, of three very different sorts (though Flesch doesn't label them): repeated partitives ("Of all the objections, not one (of them) was cogent"; of with superlatives ("one of the most hazardous (of) medical episodes"); and of in WH-clause complements of abstract nouns ("the issue (of) whether such behavior is permissible"). Details in the 2007 posting.

Comments are closed.