the spread of adjective-licensed "of"

Dennis Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Mon Jan 21 15:52:26 UTC 2008

You have reason Ron, as Troy Aikman revealed yesterday in the not
very surprising "Had they not of done..." with a very clearly
articulated "of." When it's a schwa, we might assume a "double
perfect " (Had they not have done...."), but the full form shows that
"of" is indeed becoming a verbal particle.


>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       ronbutters at AOL.COM
>Subject:      Re: the spread of adjective-licensed "of"
>Both "of recent" and "how big of a" sound completely normal to me. I
>have heard both all my life & thought nothing odd about either one.
>Indeed, I have always assumed that "how big a" was just a shortened
>form of the FULL form with "of." Cf. the "to" in "help him (to)."
>I can't believe that actual research (as opposed to the mere
>reporting of transient impressions) will reveal anything odd or NEW
>here. Of course, since I am merely reporting my own transient
>impressions, maybe I am dead wrong. But isn't the burden of proof on
>those who are made the original claims?
>Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
>-----Original Message-----
>From: "STAHLKE, HERBERT F" <hstahlke at BSU.EDU>
>Date:         Mon, 21 Jan 2008 00:17:42
>Subject:      Re: [ADS-L] the spread of adjective-licensed "of"
>I'm copying my reply to you because ADS-L has not be accepting my
>postings now for several years, even when I've changed addresses.
>I'm wondering if "of recent" isn't along the lines of "of a Monday," the
>latter now archaic and/or regional.
>The "of a" you illustrate strikes me as related to another @(v) I've
>observed.  In clauses like
>If he had been there.
>What I hear often is "if he'd /@@/ been there."  The lengthened schwa is
>almost two syllables in speech.  One of the schwa's is clearly the
>reduction of "have," but the other can't be that.  I also get it and
>hear it sometimes in the declarative "He'd /@@/ been there if it hadn't
>@ rained."  The schwa in this conditional seems to be the same thing as
>the first of the schwas in the main clause.  I don't have a description
>of this phenomenon, but there is clearly something going on that
>reanalyzes both "have" and "of."
>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender: American Dialect Society
>Poster: Laurence Horn
>Subject: the spread of adjective-licensed "of"
>I'm sure Arnold has a better label for this construction, which we've
>discussed here in the past. What struck me today was the proximity
>of two occurrences, one in print that suggests the occurrence of the
>"adjective-of-a" construction (what some might consider epenthetic
>"of") that has moved beyond the colloquial into at least semi-formal
>style, as seen in this headline in an Allstate ad on the back cover
>of today's NYT Week in Review:
>How long of a retirement should you plan for?
>Somehow I wouldn't bat my eye at a sportscaster wondering on the air,
>"How long of a run was that?", but the occurrence in a newspaper ad
>seems a bit odder.
>The other intrusive prep. occurs in spoken and indeed sportscasterese
>register (from the broadcast of today's AFC championship game on
>CBS), but what's interesting is the construction itself, which seems
>pretty foreign to me, although obviously interpretable:
>The guy who's really putting this team over the top of recent is
>Hard to search "of recent" on google for obvious reasons, but I'm
>guessing it could be a nonce blend of "recently" + "of late".
>The American Dialect Society -
>The American Dialect Society -

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of English
Morrill Hall 15-C
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48864 USA

The American Dialect Society -

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