The Court of Peeves, Crotchets and Irks resumes its April assizes with a motion to clarify from Jim Evans of Somewhere in Dotcom. He asks, What is happening to “of”?

As Exhibit A he offers a headline over a syndicated column: “Homeland security is taking too broad of an aim.” A different columnist complains that movies cost too much: “Movies are too big of a project to be taken on capriciously in my family.”

Too broad of an aim? Too big of a project? The “of” is plainly redundant, but the idiomatic usage occurs widely. Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage recalls an incident when shortstop Peewee Reese was asked about the speech he would make upon his induction into the Hall of Fame. “It won’t be that long of a speech,” he said. Golfer Lee Trevino remarked on TV that a particular stroke “wouldn’t be that difficult of a shot.” Twenty years ago, New York’s Mayor Edward Koch told The New York Times, “I don’t want to be considered too good of a loser.”

The court believes the locution occurs far more often in speech than in writing. Either way, the redundancy is benign. The same observation may be made of the “of” in “all of,” as in, “All of his pals are heavy boozers.” Writers may leave it in or cut it out, depending generally upon the cadence and flow of a sentence. In a famous passage in “Macbeth,” Shakespeare left it out. “All my pretty ones?” cries Macduff. “What, all my pretty chickens and their dam at one fell swoop?”

Bryan Garner, one of the great lexicographers at the Oxford University Press, confesses a real animus toward the redundant “of.” However innocuous it may appear, “the word ‘of,’ in anything other than small doses, is among the surest indications of flabby writing.”

He cites a Horrid Example: “In spite OF the fact that a great percentage OF the media coverage OF Muslims mainly targets the negative actions OF some splinter groups and several individuals, there are still a shrinking number OF people who are still under the false impression that Al-Islam is a ‘bloody and dangerous religion,’ as the Bishop puts it.”

Garner’s rewrite: “Because the media continually put Muslims in a negative light, some continue to believe that Al-Islam is a ‘bloody and dangerous religion,’ as the Bishop puts it.”

The recasting eliminates five OFs and trims 56 words to 28.

Judge Robert Simms of Traveler’s Rest, S.C., urges the court to apply its usual doctrine of strict construction to “massive.” His point is that except in the field of medicine (a massive hemorrhage) the adjective properly applies only to solidity, rather than size. Most of the commentators agree. Both Fowler and Eric Partridge regarded “massive” as a vogue word, not to be employed when such hired hands as sweeping, comprehensive, vigorous, intense, overwhelming and huge are available. The court concurs, but fears it is too late to rescue “massive” from its captors. One more neat word lost to sprawl! Court adjourned!

James Kilpatrick is a syndicated columnist.


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