as ADJ of a N as

Lynne Murphy M.L.Murphy at SUSSEX.AC.UK
Fri Feb 20 12:02:23 UTC 2004

Another colleague has now found lots of instances of "as hell of a",
leading him to wonder whether 'hell' has been reanalysed as an adj.  That
phrase is totally foreign to my dialect.  I'm guessing it's more Southern?
(One of his e.g.s was from a John Prine song.)


--On Thursday, February 19, 2004 11:52 am -0800 "Arnold M. Zwicky"
<zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU> wrote:

>> The evidence appears to be that this is standard AmE. So I've
>> learnt/learned something new that had escaped my notice...
> [lots of hits on "Deg Adv of a"]
> this shows that the construction with "of" is very common in american
> english.  but that's already well known.  this sampling doesn't control
> for source/context/etc. and doesn't compare the "of" construction to
> the corresponding construction without "of", so it provides no way of
> moving from "very widespread" to "standard".

I seem to have made a mistake in my cutting and pasting--he did compare it
to the corresponding of-less construction further down in his message, and
it's not in the version that I sent to the list.  Sorry. In his comparison
list,there were fewer without 'of', but when I tried to replicate his
result, I got far, far more without 'of'.  Doing it with actual NPs in
place, I got:

As good a job  35,800
As good of a job 3,830

As good a time 89,700
As good of a time 1,800

But this has no control for place.  Searching just in .mil and .gov
(definitely US, but likely to be higher register) I got:

as good a = 5,350
as good of a = 131

as old a = 12
as old of a = 0

Looking in .com (which is likely but not guaranteed to be US English), I

as good a = 205,000
as good of a = 19,200

as scary a =379
as scary of a = 48

So the 'of a' variant is definitely rarer in general.

I also tried searching for "as good (of) a" plus a state name, thinking
that if it's more common in the south, maybe pages with 'Texas' 'Alabama'
or 'Kentucky' would have a greater proportion than those with 'New Jersey'
or 'Minnesota'.   The rate of 'of' constructions (using the adjective
'good') as a %age of non-'of' constructions was:

FL 8.3%, TX 6.6%, WY 6.6%, MN 5.8%, AL 5.8%, KY 4.7%, NJ 4.2%, OR 3.8%, GA
3.1%, ME 3.0%

(Georgia, of course, could be affected by the country name.)  In this very
unscientific survey, it does look a bit south-oriented, but west-central
looks a bit of-ish too.

And that's how I amused myself over breakfast...


Dr M Lynne Murphy
Lecturer in Linguistics

Department of Linguistics and English Language
Arts B133
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QN
>>From UK:  (01273) 678844
Outside UK: +44-1273-678844

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