Saturday, March 13, 2010

off (of) and out (of)

Andy S wrote to say:
I'm interested in the Americanism off of which sounds very odd to British ears. I'd be interested to know more about it.
Indeed, Americans would often get off of a [much more common in AmE--in BrE it can have a more restricted meaning] couch, whereas British folk would get off the [available in AmE, but I suspect that the frequency varies regionally] sofa.  That's not to say that off of is the only way we put it in AmE, as evidenced by  Paul Simon's admonition to Gus to hop off the bus.  And Americans didn't make it up.  In the OED, one can find the following examples:

a1616 SHAKESPEARE Henry VI, Pt. 2 (1623) II. i. 98 A fall off of a Tree.
1667
A. MARVELL Corr. in Wks. (1875) II. 224 The Lords and we cannot yet get off of the difficultyes risen betwixt us.
 Nevertheless, it came to be regarded as 'non-standard' in Britain. In AmE (according to Random House Webster's College Dictionary, 1991 [via Fowler's Modern English Usage, 3rd edn]), off of is 'widespread in speech, including that of the educated . . . but is rare in edited writing'.

But, in a weird twist, AmE speakers are more likely to say go out the window/door than BrE speakers, who more typically go out of the window.  According to a corpus study by Maria Estling published in English Today (1999; 15:3.22-7; via John Algeo's British or American English), when going through windows or doors, BrE uses out of twice as often as out and AmE uses out more than six times as much as out of in this context.  But BrE differs a lot in spoken (72% out) versus written (80% out of).  Algeo investigated this further and found that both BrE and AmE prefer out more strongly with door, but Americans 'more strikingly so'.  BrE users are twice as likely to say out with door but AmE speakers are nine times more likely to say out the door.

Algeo goes on to list several more cases in which BrE uses out of and AmE either doesn't, or is less likely to:
  1. Algeo reports that he's found equal numbers of from King's Cross ([BrE] railway station/[AmE] train station) and out of King's Cross, but no cases of out of Grand Central.  I'm not sure if he checked more than just Grand Central though...and whether he knows that Penn Station would be a better test case (because NY Penn Station gets more than four times the traffic of Grand Central, and there are Penn Stations in other cities too).  Checking on the web, I find that trains out of Penn Station gets 901 hits, while trains from Penn Station gets 18,100, backing up Algeo's evidence for a difference.
  2. BrE says out of hours to mean 'outside normal business hours', while AmE would use after hours in most similar contexts.
  3. BrE kicks people out of the team 96% of the time in Algeo's data (versus off the team) AmE always kicks people off the team.
  4. BrE sometimes (28% of the time in A's data--the Cambridge Intertnational Corpus) has things being out of all recognition instead of beyond all recognition.  AmE always uses the latter.
Why would anyone ever use a compound preposition with of if they don't need to?  When I want to give my students an example of a really meaningless word, I use of.  I mean, what does it add to anything?  Well, it adds a preposition, and we need prepositions to glue bits of sentences together and tell us which parts go with which parts.  For instance consider the phrase:
The Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers welcomes the deposit, by the Russian Federation, of its instrument of ratification of Protocol.  [Council of Europe, Committee of Ministers]
 And without the ofs:
The Chairperson the Committee Ministers welcomes the deposit, by the Russian Federation, its instrument ratification Protocol.
The ofs tell us to process the sentence like this:
The Chairperson
of the Committee
of Ministers
welcomes
the deposit
of its instrument
of ratification
of Protocol
 by the Russian Federation

(That's my attempt at lazy [AmEish] sentence-diagramming on Blogger.)

So, why do you need the glue of of if you've already got a workable preposition?  Probably (in part) because there's some ambiguity about whether out and off are prepositions.  In many situations, they are adverbial.  You can tell the difference in that prepositions require objects--i.e. noun phrases--to go [usually] after them, but an adverb modifies the verb, rather than gluing a noun to a sentence.  So:

I jumped off  [adverbial; tells something about the direction of your jumping]
   versus
I jumped off the table [preposition; indicates a relationship between the me-jumping and the table]
(For the record, the AmE part of my brain is screaming for an of in the second example.) 
If we understand the off to be an adverb, then we'd need a preposition in order to glue the table onto the sentence.   But wait one (AmE) gumdanged minute!  There are other adverb/preposition pairs that don't have an of variant.  What's up with that? 

Well, I don't know--I've not researched this, so this is middle-of-the-night rambling, but notice that we don't get *in of or *on of.  (* is linguists' way of marking an impossible grammatical construction.)  The of seems to signify a movement away, a 'from' meaning. (Notice we do get into and onto-- a 'toward' meaning matches on or in--so we do make compound prepositions with them too.)  Why do off and out allow of, while other 'away'-meaning preposition/adverbs, like away, down and up, use from instead? Oh, I don't know...it's past 2 in the morning--stop with the questions already!  The most likely answer is 'because that's the way people have started saying it', but I'm tempted to think it's because the others are further to the adverbial side of the preposition-adverb continuum than off and out are and that they therefore need a stronger prepositional support.  But then again I don't know that I actually believe it, so I'm going to shut up already [final positioning of already is AmE, influenced by Yiddish].  Good night!

46 comments:

Jamie said...

A different flavor of "off of": I have noticed many students writing "based off of." Urgh, it sounds terribly wrong to me. Based ON. On on on on.

Anonymous said...

Curious about the use I hear denoting an origin or place, i.e. "John off of Liverpool" or "John off of the Beatles". I've even heard "John out of off of the Beatles"!

Tom Ellett said...

I've noticed that people here in Canada (or in this part of Ontario at least) will talk about "a company based out of Toronto" or even just "a company out of Toronto" where I (BrE native) would say "a company based in Toronto" or "a company from Toronto".

ella said...

ha! nothing to add really, other than as someone who grew up between two dialects (Southern BrE and Southern Ontario CanE) this totally explains why, when writing, I am always confused as to when and whether I ought to put 'of'!

RWMG said...

At school in the SE of England 40-odd years ago, we were always told to avoid sentences like 'he got off of the bus' because they sounded 'uneducated'.

@anonymous I've never heard 'John off of the Beatles', but I have heard the construction frequently with TV programmes, e.g., 'He's Barnaby off of Midsomer Murders'.

Ø said...

My teenage son uses "based off", and possibly also "based off of", when talking about how one song or other creative work is related to another. It jars me. I tease him. (He also says "based on" in some contexts.) We're in the Boston, MA, area.

The equally jarring "based out of" in reference to workplaces is known in the US, too.

vp said...

Lynne -- your brain screams "I jumped off of the table"??? No! No! No! Please say it ain't so!

"Off of" sounds like fingernails on a blackboard to me (note: I'm not saying it's wrong -- just that it drives me nuts!) Why? I don't know. But I do hear it a lot here in California. Among people my age (mid-30s) I seem to hear it more from people who are more educated, which initially came as a surprise to me. I have heard it once or twice in England -- it is supposed to be a feature of "Estuary English". It drove me just as nuts then.

AmE does tend to prefer "of" where BrE doesn't. Other examples are "outside (of)" and "inside (of)", where I think the "of" would be judged incorrect in BrE but is ubiquitous in AmE. There's also "all (of)".

By the way, "off" and "of" were originally just variant pronunciations (strong and weak) of the same word! Compare the variant pronunciations today of "with": in the US it usually rhymes with "smith" (strong pronunciation) while in England it usually rhymes with the first syllable of "dither" (weak pronunciation).

Anonymous said...

As someone has already commented, "he's that bloke off of the telly" sounds familiar. But I wouldn't say it was "proper" (Br)English. Certainly not something one should write in a school essay.

Another one that jars with me is double ises. The thing is, is I can see what it is you're saying.

martin said...

I have heard it once or twice in England -- it is supposed to be a feature of "Estuary English".

As an Estuary English speaker, "off of" is what i use (by preference) in many contexts - and i sometimes get a similar 'fingernails-on-a-blackboard' reaction when other people 'drop' the 'of'!

One thing that truly puzzled me when i first saw it was 'in back of' - at first, i first assumed that it meant 'in THE back of', until i realised it was analogous to 'in front of'...

Ongast said...

As a non-native speaker living in a non-English speaking country, I'm surprised to learn that AmE actually adds an 'of' here and there instead of just suppressing them. I remember how I first came across 'a couple things' and assumed it to be a mistake. But then, my English maybe so bookish that spoken BrE also has 'a couple things', too. Unbeknownst to me, so to speak. (Or rather, to write - I know that nobody in their right mind uses that expression.)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps even more confusing for ESL students than 'off of' is 'off on', as in "Xmart shoppers, our special today is $1 off on a pound of X". Our ship's shopkeeper once asked me to make her usual announcement over the tannoy, and with almost imperceptible hesitation I found myself unable to add the extra 'on'. Thenceforth, when she resumed her own announcements, she too dropped the extra 'on' -- for a couple days. .

Ned said...

"That one song off of their album" does sound odd to my BrE-trained ears, like the bloke off of the telly. Maybe it's jarring because "off" sounds a bit like "of"?

RWMG said...

@Ongast I (from SE England) use 'unbeknownst' in conversation when I have a need for it, and I don't think I'm alone in doing so. But Lynne has discussed unbeknownst in the past.

Graham said...

in/into: I have vaguely noticed this in my own usage (BrE). Although I would consider either perfectly correct, I would say "Get in the car!" as an order but "He got into the car". It is something to do with the more passive tone of the latter.

Paul Danon said...

Lynne's Council of Europe quote may have been based on a passage from here which reads: "The Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers, Micheline Calmy-Rey, welcomes the deposit, by the Russian Federation, of its instrument of ratification of Protocol No. 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights, shortly before the beginning of the ministerial conference in Interlaken." A newspaper sub-editor would scream at that sentences's length and lumpiness.

It may have been written/translated by someone for whom English was not their first language, not just because of the context but because of the avoidance of English possessives. I observe that this is done by native speakers of Romance languages which lack possessives and which, instead, indicate possession with their equivalent of "of". A sub-editor would have wanted to rewrite the sentence above with a least one possessive, such as "the committee of ministers' chairperson" or "the Russian Federation's deposit". One could, of course, go for the even more idiomatic: "Micheline Calmy-Rey, the ministers' committee's chairperson, welcomes the Russian Federation's European Human Rights' Convention's protocol 14's ratification's instrument's deposit shortly before the ministerial conference's beginning in Interlaken." I think that, in German, one might use the "shortly before the ministerial conference's beginning in Interlaken" adjectivally and, thus, just before "deposit", though I don't know if you'd need somehow to inflect Interlaken to agree with it.

BrE "off of the telly" is perceived as more jokey and colloquial than "off the telly" (itself slang), and I think that some BrE complaint-tradition which mocks and criticises "off of" is based on an idea that it's somehow tautological and/or yobbish along with "I might of known". A bloke off (of) the telly is someone who has actually appeared on TV but isn't on it just now. There are probably dialectal variations with "off of", which sounds to me more natural in Cockney than in RP.

mollymooly said...

There is a difference between "He walked out the door" and "He walked out of the room".

[He [[walked] [out [the door]]]]

[He [[walked out] [of [the room]]]]

The song "Can't take my Eyes Off You" as recorded by Frankie Valli in 1967 does not use "Off Of You" even though the latter would better fit the meter. Many cover versions insert "Of".

@Tom Ellett:
I've heard American boxing announcers introduce a contestant as "fighting out of Chicago Illinois", which makes his trip to Las Vegas seem more arduous than a mere airline flight.

@RWMG, Anonymous, Ned said...
I've heard "that bloke off the telly" but not "that bloke off of the telly"; the former is colloquial in any case.

mollymooly said...

There is a difference between "He walked out the door" and "He walked out of the room".

[He [[walked] [out [the door]]]]

[He [[walked out] [of [the room]]]]

The song "Can't take my Eyes Off You" as recorded by Frankie Valli in 1967 does not use "Off Of You" even though the latter would better fit the meter. Many cover versions insert the "Of".

@Tom Ellett:
I've heard American boxing announcers introduce a contestant as "fighting out of Chicago Illinois", which makes his trip to Las Vegas seem more arduous than a mere airline flight.

@RWMG, Anonymous, Ned said...
I've heard "that bloke off the telly" but not "that bloke off of the telly"; the former is colloquial in any case.

chris perriman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris perriman said...

off of has always been common in the north east of england. i still wouldn't say it though :D

jhm said...

I thought that, the official lyrics notwithstanding (I've never seen them written), the line was "Can't take my eyes /offa/ you." Maybe I've been inserting this for better scansion.

Another such pronounced versions which come to mind are: /outta/ e.g. "I'm outta here!"

vp said...

Another place where AmE prefers "of" and BrE doesn't is "Not that big (of) a town".

And does anyone know why, although AmE prefers "outside (of)" and "inside (of)", it doesn't use "beside (of)"? Or does it?

vp said...

@mollymooly:

There is a difference between "He walked out the door" and "He walked out of the room".

[He [[walked] [out [the door]]]]

[He [[walked out] [of [the room]]]]


How do you know it isn't [He [[walked] [out [of [the door]]]]]?

Anonymous said...

Funny - as an AmE speaker in So Cal, I would not use the "of" in the examples you gave. I tell the dog to "Get off the sofa!" all the time, and I would say "I jumped off the table", if I had indeed done so.

Having been surrounded by ESL speakers at work for so long has desensitized to a lot of grammatical errors. The one that still makes me cringe though, is the voice mail greeting that says "I am away of my desk." It belongs to a Hebrew speaker, and I have noticed that many of them seem to choose randomly between "of" and "from" when they know they need one or the other.

Shaun Clarkson said...

Just thinking off the top of my head, is someone who's blogging till 2.28am off of her head or just off her head?

(Of course the answer is neither, she's just very dedicated to the loyal band of followers of her blog!)

Shaun Clarkson said...

Now for a couple of slightly more serious comments.

I live in Yorkshire and to my ears 'off of' sounds wrong but not unusual. As others have said it would be perceived as uneducated, perhaps by its similarity to the use of 'of' instead of 'have'in e.g. "I would of gone."

I wonder if the usage in the Council of Europe quote isn't so much down to translation from a Romance language as an attempt to write in an ultra-formal house style for official business.

Julie said...

I don't know about other accents, but I think most Americans drop the final consonant of "of" in this particular construction, unless the next word starts with a vowel. No matter how you spell it, I would never say, "I'm getting out of here," but generally "I'm getting outta here." I think I'm a bit more likely to use "out of" if the subject is already in (it), rather than just going through it. As in "Go out the door," but "Get out of (outta) the doorway."

I agree with jhm on the song lyrics, although I've never seen the official written version. Sounds like "offa" to me, too.

the_sybil said...

As a BrE speaker I'd consider both "off," and "off of," as normal BrE constructions, though I think I'd see "off of" as rather less formal.

Does anyone else see them as having slightly different shades of meaning, though? To me "jumped off of the table," puts the emphasis on the starting point of the jump, whereas "jumped off the table," puts the emphasis on the action of jumping. But maybe that's just me.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

One American construction that intrigues me is when my friends say "She skates out of X rink" instead of "She skates at X rink". And they are also apt to write (and presumably say) "I'm not that good of a skater", where I, in BrE, would omit the "of" - "I'm not that good a skater".

(I would say "off of the telly", jokingly - I wouldn't write it, other than very informally; I'd probably say "from [programme name]" if I were being formal)

mollymooly said...

"Merriam-Webster's dictionary of English Usage" discusses off of and [how big] of a. The latter is standard in "how much of a"; "how much a" sounds stilted or archaic.

Gordon P. Hemsley said...

Just to add some more AmE opinions to the deluge of BrE ones: There are many instances where I would only use "off of" if I were writing very formally. I would most likely only jump off the table when speaking. And it certainly doesn't scream for an "of" for me (Long Island/New York).

biochemist said...

BrE has 'on top of' in both written and spoken use, but I always associate 'atop' with the National Geographic - 'the explorer surveys the glacier from atop the nearby peak'. Is this used in spoken AmE?

Is there an equivalent 'of' phrase for underneath or beneath/below? 'At the foot of' perhaps?

lynneguist said...

@biochemist: I do use 'atop', and have had it commented upon approvingly (but I can't remember the dialect of the commenter, frustratingly), but it's not exactly colloquial...

Searching the British Natl Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English:
1394.75 occurrences per million words in AmE
139 per million in BrE

Can that be right? What a lovely '10 times more' set of numbers!

Cameron MacDonald Black said...

To Gordon P Hemsley:
"Off of" is FORMAL English to you? I'm staggered by that! I'm a fingernails on the blackboard guy when it comes to that.

Anonymous said...

http://www2.hawaii.edu/~bergen/papers/CogLingHumorBergenBinsted.pdf

See especially pg. 11 et passim. From the point of view of a linguist, this is a matter of a cognitive construction -- it's merely indicative of different ways of framing and profiling the same phenomenon (the Wikipedia page on cognitive linguistics isn't bad, so I'll link to it: http://bit.ly/q4Uxw). Again, from the point of view of a linguist, neither of these constructions ("off of" versus "off") is better than the other -- it's just different ways of talking about the same thing.

Gordon P. Hemsley said...

@Cameron
It's possible that it's a hypercorrection, though it would be one that I apply to most P + of constructs.

But yeah, I think the of-less variety is the most natural way to speak it for me.

lynneguist said...

@anonymous:

While there's an example with 'jump off of' in this paper, it doesn't seem to contrast 'off of' and 'off' at all, or even really discuss the meaning of 'off of'...it just mentions that they can be used metaphorically in ways that are consistent with their meaning. So, could you be more specific about what you think it contributes to the discussion of 'off of' versus 'off'?

The paper seemingly inadvertently contradicts the idea that different form => different function, since the text refers to the phrase 'fall off of' in example (14), but when reads (14), there's no example of 'fall off of' at all, but instead an example of 'fall off'! :)

mollymooly said...

@biochemist:
I believe "atop" was one of several archaic words revivified by Time magazine in the interwar years, when its distinctive prose style was dubbed "Timese".

@vp:
"How do you know it isn't [He [[walked] [out [of [the door]]]]]"?

I'm not sure which scenario you mean to describe:
1. [possible, if unusual] The mouse had been scuttling around inside the hollow panel door, and then he walked out of the door.
2. He walked out of the doorway in which he had been standing. [I would require "doorway" rather than "door".]

Rob said...

Am I the only one put off (but not off of) by "gumdanged"? I've heard/used "dadgummed," but never the other way around. By ghits, it's half a million to 200 in favor of the latter.

I'm from the edge of the Southern /mid-Atlantic region of the US, if that makes any difference.

lynneguist said...

It exists, as you've shown, so what's there to be 'put off' by? Does it mark me as a member of the wrong tribe? :)

Cameron MacDonald Black said...

To Rob:
There are roughly two million and three versions of that word/phrase/whatever. All of which bear the same attribute: that they enable people to curse while insisting they're doing no such thing!

Anonymous said...

I remember being puzzled as a child by the Rolling Stones' "Hey, hey, you, you, get offa my cloud". I had never heard anyone say "off of" in the English Midlands. In later life I've associated it with people from the South-East.

Kate (Derby, UK)

J. Davis said...

I notice that nobody here commented on how this has an interesting parallel in other Indo-European languages.

In Russian and Greek, for example, prepositions denoting motion away from something often take Genitive arguments. (Russian из, с, от; Greek ἀπό, ἐκ) In some cases in these languages, the 'motion away' meaning is carried by the genitive case itself! (Greek παρά)

I would posit the possibility of a connection here.

vp said...

@J Davis:
In Russian and Greek, for example, prepositions denoting motion away from something often take Genitive arguments. (Russian из, с, от; Greek ἀπό, ἐκ) In some cases in these languages, the 'motion away' meaning is carried by the genitive case itself! (Greek παρά)

I would posit the possibility of a connection here.


There's certainly a historical connection: ἀπό is cognate with English "off". And, since "of" is merely a weakened form of "of", all three are derived from the same Proto-Indo-European word, which probably meant "away from".

According to http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=of the word "of" became a genitive particle in order to translate Foreign texts!

David Crosbie said...

J Davies

A closer Russian-English parallel is that из combines to make double prepositions из за 'from behind' and из под 'from under'. Like English off of they denote both motion and location. The difference is that the English combination denotes the location after the motion, while the Russian combinations denote the location before the motion.

For myself and (I believe) other British speakers of my generation this motion-location pairing is frequently separated in into and onto (or on to) — but frequently merged in simple in or on. For no discernible reason, we never separate motion-location as others (allegedly only Americans) do with off of 'moving so as to be no longer on'. Nor do we use it in the position-result of motion sense 'away from after preciously being on'.

Lynne's examples off of a couch, off of a tree and get off of the difficultyes are like:

on fall on a couch
in The squirrel ran in the tree

But off doesn't always denote motion. It can mean 'located at a distance from' — as in off shore, off message, off piste. Thus:

• Someone off the tele is away from the context of appearing on television. Doubling the preposition to form off of the tele separates the senses of out-of-context location and location before the separation.

• The company with its basis at a remove from Toronto could be said to be off Toronto just as we say off shore. Quite arbitrarily, nobody says that —but some do say off of Toronto. (The use of the expression be based is a separate controversy.)

The double preposition out of generally denotes( in part) motion or metaphorical motion. The one counter example I can think of is out of the question 'located metaphorically outside the wrongly suggested location, namely the metaphorical place the question. However, this could simply be the result of an unidiomatic translation from Latin.

David Crosbie said...

I forgot to add that we do have ways of denoting 'in a position that is not in a stipulated location'.

For most speakers the word is outside, but Scottish English possesses a sort-of double preposition outwith.

I wonder whether anybody says outwith of. Some speakers do say outside of — I think I say it myself occasionally.

[Mrs Alexander confused countless young hymn-singers with
There is a green hill far away, without a city wall
Another double preposition.]

Anonymous said...

I am of British descent. I am also from Britain. I don't know why, but when using it to talk about a person, I just feel that "I got it off John." feels ruder and less formal than saying "I got it off of John.".