the spread of adjective-licensed "of"

Dennis Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Mon Jan 21 15:56:04 UTC 2008

This is very interesting (if it is not just a slip). Anybody out
there got any other evidence for "stranded determiners"?


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>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
>Subject:      Re: the spread of adjective-licensed "of"
>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:
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>>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".
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Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of English
Morrill Hall 15-C
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48864 USA

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