Is using 'of' redundant in certain constructions?
January 30, 2004 7:06 PM   Subscribe

Quite a few American MeFi users, notably Matt, write "not so big of a deal" or, as in the linked example, "too subtle of a point." Is this a legitimate American construction or is that of redundant and/or just plain wrong? If it's acceptable, is it in any way related to the colloquial English construction "Of a Saturday, I enjoy a walk in the park"?
posted by MiguelCardoso to Writing & Language (30 answers total)
It's nonstandard and vulgar, according to this ; >
posted by amberglow at 7:11 PM on January 30, 2004

I've only recently started hearing it, and it sounds just plain wrong to me...but not as think-about-what-you're-saying wrong as "I could care less".
posted by biscotti at 7:17 PM on January 30, 2004

I'm from NYC; I've spoken like that all of my life. It never occured to me that it's wrong. Everyone I know speaks like that too.
posted by tomorama at 7:33 PM on January 30, 2004

so am I , tom, and I never say it, and no one I know does either--eh, it's not that big a deal anyway. : >
posted by amberglow at 7:35 PM on January 30, 2004

If you're making a day of things at a quarter of four,
you'll only be abusing your grammar.

And if there were a law,
all the syntax aflaw would be grounds to sit in the slammer.

posted by Smart Dalek at 7:43 PM on January 30, 2004

Have you ever heard of the term splitting hairs?
posted by Keyser Soze at 8:14 PM on January 30, 2004

I am from Oregon, I hear that sentence structure all the time.
posted by Keyser Soze at 8:15 PM on January 30, 2004

A google search of "too big a deal" vs. "too big of a deal" only has a ratio of 2:1. Bartleby admits this construction "could achieve idiomatic status too before long, despite the objections of many commentators. "
posted by vacapinta at 8:23 PM on January 30, 2004

It is one of a number of increasingly-common phrasings which I hear all the time now. They seem to originate among the less-educated who don't know how to phrase what they want to say and so produce convoluted constructions which eventually work their way into common parlance. I find them very annoying; the example you cite is actually one of the less offensive ones.
posted by rushmc at 10:54 PM on January 30, 2004

Another one that I hear all the time is 'could of', as in : "if he'd tried harder, he could of been a contender." Argh.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:10 PM on January 30, 2004

I think that I pretty much move between using "of" and not using "of" in that construction, depending on the tone I'm adopting. However, I think I'm the exception in my pretentiousness. Most everyone I know uses "... big of a deal" et. al. exclusively. I see nothing wrong with it, since it's almost ubiquitous. At the same time, I doubt I would notice one way or the other if anyone used the prescripted construction instead.
posted by Hildago at 11:49 PM on January 30, 2004

I've read the term "big of a deal" on the internet, but have never heard it used aloud. Living in the UK this may not be surprising or relevant to you. As for "I could care less"; it used to bother me, but then I've never heard an American say "I couldn't care less" which is the term used here. However, I've taken to imagining emphasis on the could, which implies that, though I could care less, in fact I really don't. This way it makes more sense to me, and doesn't bother me. In fact, it seems more subtle than "I couldn't care less" when I think about it this way. Apologies if that's obvious to everyone else.
posted by nthdegx at 12:35 AM on January 31, 2004

Stavros, is that not 'could've' as in 'could have'? If not, I'll see your 'argh' and raise you an exclamation point! :-)
posted by Dick Paris at 5:13 AM on January 31, 2004

In speech "could've" and "could of" can't really be distinguished--but I'm starting to see "could of," "must of," and the like more and more. It's my number one grammar pet peeve.
posted by Jeanne at 6:48 AM on January 31, 2004

"...made too big of a deal" and the like seem to be pretty common speech. It's rare that I hear this phrase constructed without "of," although in my own speech I seem to use "...made a big deal out of object" more frequently. This is possibly no more correct as the "out" seems superfluous.

As to the sidebar: "could of" seems to be a misrecorded "could've," and growing in popularity along with other written malapropisms based on speech similarity like "tow the line." My guess -- well, pure conjecture, really -- is that it comes from writers mishearing or misunderstanding their own speech.
posted by majick at 7:15 AM on January 31, 2004

And no, I don't think it's at all similar to "Of a Saturday," which sounds entirely unfamiliar and peculiar to me. The phrase I would use is "On a Saturday...."
posted by majick at 7:17 AM on January 31, 2004

Hmm. It never occurred to me that [adj] of a [noun] wasn't considered correct. Wonder what this means for "dark of the moon."
posted by adamrice at 12:17 PM on January 31, 2004

Another one that I hear all the time is 'could of', as in : "if he'd tried harder, he could of been a contender."

As others have said, what you are hearing is "could've," with which there is nothing wrong. People who write it with "of" have clearly misanalyzed it.

As for the original question, here's what The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (by far the best guide to American usage) has to say:
What we have here is a fairly recent American idiom that has nearly a fixed form: that or how or too... followed by an adjective, then of a and a noun.... Our evidence shows the idiom to be almost entirely oral; it is rare in print except in reported speech. The earliest examples we have seen so far are in the American Dialect Dictionary and date back to 1942 and 1943. It is undoubtedly at least somewhat older... Reader's Digest 1983 and Copperud 1980 condemn this as nonstandard and erroneous. But the only stricture on it suggested by our evidence is that it is a spoken idiom: you will not want to use it much in writing except of the personal kind.
I suspect that those of you who "have never heard it" are not close listeners; it is so ubiquitous in spoken American it is almost impossible that you've managed to escape it.

majick: "Of a Saturday" is British usage. The OED says:
52 a At some time during, in the course of, on. App[arently] taking the place of the Com. Teut. and OE. genitive of time. Now only in the colloquial of an evening, of a morning, of a Sunday afternoon, and the like.

[Old English examples, e.g. c.1205 Lay. 2861 Fure ├że neuer ne a├żeostrede, winteres ne sumeres.] 1382 Wyclif Gen. xx. 8 Anoon of the nyght [1388 bi nyght] rysynge, Abimalech [etc.]. 1472 Presentm. Juries in Surtees Misc. (1888) 23 Maid asalt.. & afrayd his neyghburs of Palmsondai. 1590 Shaks. Mids. N. ii. i. 253 There sleepes Tytania, sometime of the night. 1657 Manchester Court Leet Rec. (1887) IV. 212 For buying and selling pullen both of one day. 1741 Richardson Pamela II. 149 Of a Thursday my dear Father and Mother were marry'd. 1741 C'tess Pomfret Corr. (1805) III. 178 Here the company meet of a summer's evening. 1830 J. H. Newman Lett. (1891) I. 222 My practice to walk of a day to Nuneham. 1831 Carlyle Sart. Res. i. iii, All the Intellect of the place assembled of an evening. 1899 W. J. Knapp Life Borrow I. 79 The father made his last Will and Testament of a Monday.
posted by languagehat at 12:20 PM on January 31, 2004

Thank you, languagehat. I think the (pleasantly formatted!) OED excerpt answers quite well both my puzzlement as well as Miguel's question of relationship.

I agree that the original "too... of a noun" has almost entirely spoken origins. However, an ever-growing body of text is written speech, not necessarily recorded speech but writing based on oral forms. Spoken idiom seems to move rapidly into recorded and written text.
posted by majick at 1:33 PM on January 31, 2004

I always thought that "of a" is only ok when it's a "noun" of a... (like a whale of a deal, a bear of a problem, a son of a bitch, a horse of a different color, etc...)
posted by amberglow at 2:04 PM on January 31, 2004

As others have said, what you are hearing is "could've," with which there is nothing wrong. People who write it with "of" have clearly misanalyzed it.

The point is that they are legion (especially on the net).
posted by rushmc at 3:32 PM on January 31, 2004

Exactly; that's why this construction is better avoided in writing. (I myself don't care for it even in speech, but that's neither here nor there. Vox populi, vox dei.)
posted by languagehat at 3:34 PM on January 31, 2004

Damn you, rushmc, you spoiled my segue! That "Exactly" was a response to amberglow's comment. But of course you're right as well.
posted by languagehat at 3:35 PM on January 31, 2004

what you are hearing is "could've," with which there is nothing wrong.

I am not an idiot, for the most part. I am hearing 'could of', with which there is everything wrong. I am an extremely close listener. But thanks for playing.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:42 PM on January 31, 2004

thanks, languagehat...and could've, would've, should've just look weird when written, I think. (But I've is cool)
posted by amberglow at 4:47 PM on January 31, 2004

Thanks all for the rich and varied perspectives!

Amberglow: could've, would've, etc. don't look weird at all from this side of the pond; at least no more than shan't,won't or I'd...

Just goes to show....what? I have no idea! :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:16 PM on January 31, 2004

it does, does. : >

I've never learned any contractions in other languages--do you guys have them?
posted by amberglow at 6:38 PM on January 31, 2004

C'est la vie, amberglow.
posted by Hildago at 6:50 PM on January 31, 2004

oh yeah! thanks hil *blushes*
posted by amberglow at 7:42 PM on January 31, 2004

I hear things phrased like that more by people on the East and West coasts. Here in the South, it sounds a bit strange and a little too wordy. Of course, we tend to shorten our spoken language, as well. We'd say "not so biga deal" instead of "not so big of a deal.
posted by sixdifferentways at 3:16 PM on February 3, 2004

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