Intrusive "of"

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Sun Nov 9 19:07:39 UTC 2008

On Nov 9, 2008, at 10:31 AM, Alison Murie wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Alison Murie <sagehen7470 at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Intrusive "of"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> If ADS-L hadn't taught me to suppress my winces at a lot of
> "substandard" speech, I think I'd be  wincing more often lately at the
> intrusion of "of" into ADJ-NOUN expressions ("big of a thing,"  "dark
> of a blue" &c.). Is this an attribute of a particular dialect........
> which is taking over American speech?

it's not new, and it's very widespread; for many young speakers, it's
simply the right way to say these things, and the of-less variant
strikes them as archaic, hyper-formal, or simply wrong.  we had a
thread on the of-ful variant here back in february 2004 ("as ADJ of a
N as"), with some bibliography, and i have posted a number of times on
the phenomenon since then, here and on Language Log.

from my file on "exceptional degree modification":

[see Zwicky 1995 [available on my  website], which cites Abney
1987:324 and Radford 1993:85]

[MWDEU under of a gives seven examples, from 1976 (Erma Bombeck, in a
newspaper column) through 1987, with THAT, TOO, and HOW; all the
sources are American, and almost all are from speech; the earliest are
from the American Dialect Dictionary, from 1942 and 1943, though “It
is undoubtedly at least somewhat older.”]

[already labeled as incorrect by Copperud 1980:271]

[compendium of examples in:  Allen, Harold B.  1989.  The big of
syndrome.  American Speech 64.1.94-6.  and in:  Rapp, Linda L.  1991.
The big of syndrome: an update.  American Speech 66.2.213-20.]

[Joan Houston Hall on ADS-L 1/22/08: DARE's first quote (at the entry
for "of", section B subsense g) is from 1942 (Rawlings, Cross
Creek)... But Volume III was done before we
had access to any electronic sources, so there are doubtless earlier

despite this history, exceptional degree modification is reported,
again and again, as a recent development.

> Jeanne Cummings on "Washington
> Week"  the other night, used the expression, "the ground shifted
> underneath of him."    "On top of," yes, but "underneath of
> "?.......hmmm.

this one i discussed on Language Log on 7/22/07, in a posting that
took off from a query from ... Alison Murie:



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