That’s What They Say listener Helga has noticed a disturbing trend.
She’s concerned about how often she’s been hearing “off of.” For example, turning “off of” Division St. onto Huron St.
Helga thinks this is redundant, and she’s not alone. “Off of” has received plenty of criticism online and in style guides.
There are some people though, who just like to watch the world burn.
Hey! You! Get off of my cloud!
Oh Helga. That chorus must really make you cringe.
Mick Jagger aside, University of Michigan English professor Ann Curzan did some digging to figure out when “off of” gained such broad acceptance.
She found it starts out in the 15th century and has a pretty good run when it comes to common usage.
“For example, in 1712, Richard Steele wrote in the Spectator, ‘I could not keep my eyes off of her’ which feels very colloquial to me in modern English,” Curzan said.
People didn’t start not liking “off of” until the 1800s. Frankie Valli must not have received that memo.
You’re just too good to be true, can’t take my eyes off of you
In Valli’s defense, it was the ‘60s.
When Curzan checked some databases to see where “off of” stands today, she found plenty of examples in common speech.
Some instances such as “rip the license plate off of the car” definitely felt redundant. Losing the “of” makes the phrase look and feel less awkward.
There were others though, such as “he backed off of that,” which Curzan herself confessed to saying.
No, we haven’t gone soft, but common usage can be hard to escape.
You’ve probably got a couple of double prepositions somewhere in your lexicon closet. What about “next to” or “out of” or “based off of”?
Actually, that last one makes us cringe. It’s “based on.” Always “based on.”
Under other circumstances, take a deep breath and remember the wise words of Curzan:
“It’s important to remember prepositions are idiomatic.”
Here’s to thinking outside of the box.