the spread of adjective-licensed "of"

James Harbeck jharbeck at SYMPATICO.CA
Tue Jan 22 04:40:35 UTC 2008

>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)."

That's very interesting to me. I definitely learned that if you say
"an X Y," you say "how X a Y," and only say "how X of a Y" when X is
a word like "much." I'm not sure whether it's a case of raising the
adjective or moving the NP to the end, but there was no question for
me that it wasn't a dropping of the "of" (which still sounds
"uneducated" to me); it's like "how sweet the sound," which I just
can't imagine being shortened from "how sweet of the sound."

>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?

I doubt it's new, either, but now I'm really wondering about the
history and the underlying structure -- or structures, since clearly
it's not the same for all speakers.

James Harbeck.

The American Dialect Society -

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