the spread of adjective-licensed "of"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Tue Jan 22 14:23:25 UTC 2008

That has always been my understanding as well, but I believe I merely assimilated it.  It seems too subtle a point [sic] to have been covered in our public grammar [sic] school.

  As one who has squandered many hours reading the popular literature of the past, I can only repeat that the "intrusive 'of ' " is not something that has ever leaped off the page at me from such sources.  The construction struck me so forcibly when I first noticed it in speech, that had I noticed it again in print over at least twenty and, it now seems, probably thirty-five years, I would have remembered it.  And I don't.  That's not to say it doesn't exist in older print, simply that, like positive "anymore," it was very uncommon on the printed page.

  The point being [sic] that the phenomenon may well have started regionally. It may have been so unpublicized in usage manuals and unfamiliar to copy editors in the Northeast that they changed it whenever they caught it.


James Harbeck <jharbeck at SYMPATICO.CA> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: James Harbeck
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)."

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.

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