One of my advanced students recently inadvertantly stepped into a linguistic bear-trap – the abuse of English by native speakers. He reads a lot on the internet, which is great homework, but had been confused by an English usage that shreds my nerves.
The extraneous ‘of’
Starting with ‘off of‘. I know it’s acceptable American idiom, but even American grammarians will only go as far as describing its usage as informally acceptable. To me it’s redundant, and it grates.
Then there’s the ‘of’ which replaces the auxiliary ‘have’ in constructions like “must have”, “would have”, and so on. “You should of seen it!” shrieks an internet writer who’s probably otherwise a literate adult, but isn’t giving any clues. Use it once, you can be forgiven for typing faster than you’re thinking. Use it twice, we cut your internet connection.
But the one that’s like fingernails down a blackboard is this last one. Take the simple phrase “It’s not a big deal”. Sometimes we want to modify ‘big’ with ‘that’ and move it before the article ‘a’ – it’s not that big a deal. (In that same way, ‘too’ – It’s too good an opportunity to waste.)
You might not have noticed it happening, but the internet is now awash with phrases like “it’s not that big of a deal“. Don’t believe me? Do a google search for “that big of a”, and it returns 1,230,000 results. The correct “that big a” returns just 451,000. The problem lies not in informally posted personal blogs or message boards, but for example many journalists, who should know a thing or two about register and tone, apparently don’t.
There are those who argue that language development is democratic, that sheer volume of usage determines what’s acceptable. What this amounts to is if enough people get it wrong, it’s right. That’s democracy for you.