_of_ > _on_ in BE

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Thu Aug 5 03:46:31 UTC 2010

Wilson Gray wrote:
> ....
> All of my life, it's seemed to me that BE uses _on_ in environments
> wherein sE uses _of_. But I could never be certain that I was hearing
> what I thought I was hearing, e.g.
> Billy Joe, he got him some bones (= either joints or one-dollar bills)
> an' he done let me hold (= "lent me") one _on_ 'em.
> I've always *thought* that I was hearing "part _on_ whole" and I've
> even used it. But in *my* grammar, it was so clearly, simply, and
> obviously _of_ in such a case that I could never fully persuade myself
> that this _on_ was not merely some form of mishearing on my part.
> Now comes independent evidence from GB:
> Gordon, A[rmistead] C[hurchill], and Thomas Nelson Page. Befo' de war;
> echoes in Negro dialect. Charles Scribner's Sons. New York, 1888. p.24
> ",,, bofe _on_ 'em ..."
> The stress-pattern is ['w^n ,Own at m] ['bowf ,Own at m].
> The print example of _on_ for _of_ is from "Ferginyer" [,f@
> 'dSinjI(?)] Virginia. But I've heard it everywhere that I've ever
> lived.

Something similar (related?) in Scots:

 From the online Scots National Dictionary:

<<O, prep. Also oa. Gen.Sc. reduced or unstressed form of Eng. of, on.
The assimilation in form has led to confusion and transference of usage
between Of and On which can be recognised when the full forms are used
and which is dealt with under the articles Of, On.>>

Example of "part on" = "part of", from 1793, under "on" [prep.] in SND:
<<And his sark tail too, a part on’t, Scorn’d within his breeks to stay.>>

[Elsewhere, G-books search for <<"on for of">> provides various
examples, including even "New England" dialect. In one case from 1835
"on for of" is given in a "Collection of Vulgarisms; or Yankeeisms"
(where I suppose "Yankeeisms" = "Americanisms"). Not all of the usages
are comparable, of course.]

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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