the spread of adjective-licensed "of"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Mon Jan 21 15:47:50 UTC 2008

I think I just heard -- but my ears are not the best -- a newscaster
on NECN (New England Cable News) say "How big of a is it?"  She had
just been speaking of the recent tiff between Clinton and Obama over
statements about race.

I wonder if she caught herself about to say "How big of a dispute is
it?", and tried to change to "How big is it?"


At 1/20/2008 10:34 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>FWIW, I rarely - if ever - hear the traditional version (without
>"of") anymore, either in the media or in real life.  And I'm quite
>certain this is not a matter of "selective attentiveness."
>   All of my well-educated non-academic friends use it habitually -
> and they're about my age.
>   I first noticed it on freshman papers many years ago - how many,
> I can't say, but it was certainly common, around here, by 1990. In
> fact, I'm inclined to say it was the *norm* for freshmen by that
> time. If someone came up with a date of ten or fifteen years
> earlier I wouldn't be at all surprised.
>   JL
>Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU> wrote:
>   ---------------------- 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 Maroney.
>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 -
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