Grammar Guerilla: Big A Vs Big Of

On sports-talk radio one gets a good sense of what is happening to the English language. College-educated hosts regularly abuse the language in ways that would frustrate their teachers to no end. For example, one of the hosts of one of my favorite shows routinely says “him and me went to the game.” He’s an intelligent fellow but perhaps his education has failed him? We attended the same university, at different times, in different degree programs. I’m certain that Dr Leinieks, in the classics dept. would have mocked to tears any student who confused the accusative (objective) for the nominative (subjective). Think of Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase.

In the spirit of Kingsfield, I have noticed lately, which is to say that I have been irritated lately by, the expression, “big of a game” as in, “this is as big of a game as the team will play all season.” What’s wrong with this sentence? It includes the unnecessary preposition of. The sentence is clearer and briefer without it: “This is as big a game as the team will play all year” is a better sentence.

I suspect that a student would not use the extra preposition in an essay and colloquial speech is informal, as it should be but there’s no need for verbal filler even in informal speech.

In the next grammar rant I will like go all grammar-zealot over the abuse of the verb “to like” as in, “We were like going to mall.”

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  1. Dr Clark,

    Please forgive me if I’m jumping the gun here, but abuse of the word “like” can be a symptom of a condition that has been variously called “Valley Girl Syndrome,” the “Like Syndrome,” or “Valleyspeak.” Therapists found an easy remedy to this malady by forcing an afflicted Valley Girl to listen to herself on tape for an hour or two, which I suppose was tantamount to gagging the victim with a spoon because it worked. Like a charm.

    • That’s like totally gross but funny nonetheless. It is amazing how Valley Speak has spread across the entire country and across 2 generations. 25 years ago it was a local dialect of which people made fun. Today it seems nigh unto universal. The young people who used it 25 years ago are now parents and teens/20s all over the country use it. The curse of mass media.

  2. I find the misuse of “myself” to be rampant and disturbing. For example, “Myself and him went tot he game” or even slightly less improperly, “Myself and he went tot he game.” I think those who say this mean to sound educated, but it has the opposite effect. Not only Professor Kingsfield, but also Frederick Winslow Taylor would be dismayed.

  3. Maybe it’s because you Americans have left out the word ‘of’ from sentences where it bleongs that it feels the need to jump in elsewhere.

    For example: I jumped out the window.

    I think you’ll find, my colonial cousins, that you mean to say: I jumped out of the window.

    • Phil, meaning no. 12 of “Jump” in the Concise Oxford Dictionary is “drill with jumper”. So strictly speaking, “I jumped out the window” means “I used a drill to remove the window from its frame”. So now we know what our cousins get up to with windows – If we’d succeeded in forcing them to remain colonial, they might be like a little less destructive. (And in this last sentence, “like” is being (mis)used as an adverbial preposition, not a verb)

    • I suspect “jumped out the window” is a regional American expression. I think standard American English would have “jumped out of…”

      We could also go back to defenestrating ourselves.

    • I honestly don’t know the rule in this instance, though I certainly understand that the “of” is understood. That said, I have discovered that in most cases where you see two prepositions used side by side, you can usually tighten the syntax by using a more precise preposition (the exception to this is those cases where two prepositions have become one word, such as “taxation without representation”) or by changing the verb or by clarifying the action.

      So in the case of “I jumped out of the window,” methinks you really “leapt from the window,” or perhaps you “crawled through the window and jumped off the edge.

    • One guy at the soup kitchen had a dog he called “Window” (because he was a pain). But even having a dog jumping out of you is a Norrisian feat.

  4. I guess none of us need to be told what the Defenestration of Prague was. When it comes to the alleged SELF-Defenestration of Prague (yes, also of Prague), some of us may need to be reminded: When this self-defenestration was announced, the Czechs and Slovaks said like “Jan Masaryk was a very tidy man. He was such a tidy man, he closed the window after himself when he jumped”. (I should have put “something” before “like”, but the most modern usage of “like” omits it).

  5. I think you’re fighting a losing battle here. This construction appears in edited writing pretty regularly already. A site search for “big of” shows that the NY Times has allowed these sentences (and many others like them) this year:

    “In some senses, the case is as big of a deal as the Betamax ruling in 1984, which allowed consumers to record programming.”

    “A COUPLE of deals are shining a spotlight on just how big of a deal big data is becoming on Madison Avenue.”

    The Guardian has allowed these sentences:

    “Spotify pays the labels according to how big of a share of the streams all their artists combined have accumulated – they don’t have to rely on a sole release, the way artists do, to recoup.”

    “Thousands of women get abortions every year, feel fine about it, then move on with their lives. It’s a ‘big issue’ for society that is sometimes, really, not that big of a deal.”

    None of these are accounts of spoken language. They all seem to the be authors’ written work, and they all seem to be from articles that appeared in print and not just on the Internet (that is, they weren’t from the blog sections of the papers’ websites).

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