or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Much of a Muchness

The other day I was having a conversation with a friend, and part of it ran more or less like this (dialogue not guaranteed accurate):

HER: You stopped writing your blog!
ME: Yeah, well, it was mostly fuelled by rage, and I just don't really feel it any more. Although I am increasingly pissed off by "of a", as in "It's not that big of a deal."
HER: I've...never heard that in my life.
ME: You should Google it! "Much of a..." is standard, but "not that big of a deal", "too long of a book to read", and the like are everywhere, and they're wrong.

And they are. And I do feel as if that structure is becoming more and more prevalent. Language Log has a piece about it dating from 2004 (the link to the Columbia Guide to Standard American English is lamentably dead), and the numbers are small: "big of a" got only 161,000 hits. Just this second? FIFTY-FOUR MILLION.

The argument against the "of a" structure is pretty basic: you say "a big deal", so you would reorder it to say "not that big a deal", which is to say "a deal [which is] not that big". The word "of" never even comes into play. But the influence of "much of a" is so strong that it has contaminated everything around it, and so we get things like this comment in the A.V. Club article Are Trailers Spoilers?: If someone says the spoiler will "ruin" something, maybe they've chosen too strong of a word. And from an actual A.V. Club article, People in Horror Movies are Stupid: Tasha can't get over the characters' stupid behavior, but Genevieve doesn't think it's that big of a deal.

It's spreading. It's going to take over. We are watching the evolution of the language, and I can't say I like it — in fact, I loathe it and it makes me grit my teeth every time I read or hear it — but languages change over time and it's probably just as well that there's nothing we can do about it.


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