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“Big of a”

This has always irked me, as prior to communicating with Americans on the internet, I’d never heard expressions such as “it’s not that big of a deal” - what is wrong with “it’s not that big a deal”?

What is the extra “of” there for? It just sounds so awkward and out of place... is there a good reason for it? Is it even correct English?

  • September 28, 2005
  • Posted by sam
  • Filed in Usage

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you've just explained to yourself how "hella" came to be in norcal.

chuy September 29, 2005, 6:53am

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Adding the "of" creates the prepositional phrase "of a deal", changing the meaning from a specific noun to a general one; or in this case from a specific transaction (this deal), to a type of transaction (any deal).

It would be considered correct either way, they just have slightly different meanings.

Ben September 29, 2005, 2:01pm

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I just think that Americans have their own dialect which can be quite irritating. To quote Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady", "Americans have not spoken English for years".

grasshopper October 1, 2005, 1:25pm

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When you add the extra of this makes the word "deal" the object of the preposition "of". this changes the word deal from a specific encounter to a generic one. does that make sence? I don't always.

Theresa October 2, 2005, 11:33am

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Oh! Sorry Ben, I hadent read the other comments befor I wrote mine or I wouldn't have written it! again, sorry!

Theresa October 2, 2005, 11:35am

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<< I just think that Americans have their own dialect which can be quite irritating. To quote Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady", "Americans have not spoken English for years". >>

Heaven forbid a completely different culture from yours should dare to have a different dialect.

Mallory October 5, 2005, 5:14am

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haha, I just read another post describing how the English often omit prepositions that normally are present (in ENGLISH English!) Maybe this is just YOUR colloquialism.

Anonymous October 20, 2005, 8:59pm

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More likely it is influenced by other such phrases: hell of a ride, giant of a man, etc. What may have begun as 'not that big a deal', a negative reworking of 'a deal that big' (ultimately) now has an 'of' there. It also makes the phrase more rythmical.

petescully December 2, 2005, 9:05am

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Oh, and people who get irritated by other forms of dialect really have no interest in the study of language.

petescully December 2, 2005, 9:09am

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It really annoys me too, which was how I came across this page. I always thought "big a deal" made more sense, because how can something be "big of"? If you say anything is "of a deal" doesn't mean much either.

I mean, fair enough if it is potentially correct, but it still annoys me :p No offense. It's like saying "couple things" not "couple of things"... I didn't thing "a couple" literally meant "two." I thought "A couple" was like saying "a pair."

Anyway, I appreciate the existence of different dialects, or whatever they are. I'm going to continue my search...

realvictory April 27, 2006, 3:05pm

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Warren Corbett, a writer and editor in Bethesda, Md., e-mailed about an annoying trend:

"At some point the phrase 'not that big a deal' became 'not that big of a deal.' I see it frequently. It grates on me, but I cannot articulate the distinction between 'not that big of a deal,' wrong in my eyes, and 'not that much of a problem,' obviously correct. If I'm not making too big a deal of it, please help."

The answer seems to lie largely with idiom -- the way things are expressed simply because they're expressed that way. But maybe there's logic involved, too. In "not that much of a problem" "much" is working as a noun. Using "of" with it seems natural, as it is, say, with "sort of a" and "kind of a" (when followed by singular nouns).

But with an adjective, in this case "big," the "of" seems unnatural and unidiomatic -- certainly redundant, and for some of us illiterate.

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, in a lengthy essay under "of a," says that in phrases like "that big of a deal," the usage is relatively recent, oral American idiom, rare in print except in reported speech.

May it remain rare in print. And if people stop speaking that way, that will be fine, too. But Mr. Corbett remains concerned. "Idiom is defined by usage," he notes, "so 'not that big of a deal' is likely to become accepted."

If so, it won't be that big a deal. But it will be annoying.

Reg Flobert July 20, 2006, 9:53am

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Gee, I thought that "...big a deal" was the more colloquial, an elided form of "...big of a deal".

porsche July 20, 2006, 10:06am

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You know what really irks me? Stuck up anglophiles who refer to American English as a "dialect", or even worse, a "bastardization" of "real" English. There are five of us for every one of you in the world. English, that is, American English has recently become the language of world commerce due to the unbridled economic success of the United States, and not, as much as you might like to think, from your failed attempt at world domination hundreds of years ago. You are the ones speaking some dialect.

Anonymous July 20, 2006, 10:17am

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Hey Anonymous, I bet you think Dutch is a dialect of Afrikaans as well!

Reg Flobert July 20, 2006, 11:23am

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Hey Reg, sure, due to the unbridled economic success of... Oh, wait a minute, Afrikaans is spoken in South Africa, isn't it? Nevermind.

Dave July 24, 2006, 3:14pm

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No offense intended to any of my South African friends. I'm just pointing out the stellar logic in Reg's brilliant comeback.

Dave July 24, 2006, 3:16pm

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It's not that American (or Canadian, or Australian, or South African, etc.) English is a dialect and British English is not. They're all dialects. There is no one perfect English to which we must all aspire. As a Canadian, I speak a slightly varied version of English than other English speakers in the world. And my regional English (Southern Ontario) is also different than the English spoken elsewhere in Canada. In fact, my English (my own idiolect) is different from even my roommate's English. Not wrong, just different. In conclusion, there's no reason to get all uppity about the term "dialect."

Lucy July 27, 2006, 10:35am

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Can this be the only place onteh internetz that discusses this point? There must be a name for the construction.

I imagine the "of" is added because the form is so rare where the article follows the adjective. Posh Brits use it all the time though, so there must be a name for it.

"I hadn't prepared for so late a night"

Is it when you want to modify the adjective then?

"It's not a that big deal" X
"It's a not that big deal" X
"It's not that big a deal" Tick

Sigh, ranting into the internetz instead of doing work is not going to get me out of the office any sooner...

public07 October 25, 2007, 5:35am

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"There must be a name for the construction." There is. It's called deadwood. "Big of a" is an error made by the same people who confuse the simple past tense of the verb "to go" i.e "gone" - for the simple past tense. They will say I had "went" shopping, when the correct construction would be I had "gone" shopping. I don't believe "I had went shopping" is correct in any English speaking country. By the same token, using the expression "big of a" - to someone from a more highly selective college or university, even in the States, reads as a sign that someone is not very well educated. People with high incomes often are speak like boors. An educated person will tell you that "it's not that big a deal." In fact it's not a big deal at all to know that what some call colloquial is merely incorrect. There is indeed a debate about "prescriptive" as opposed to "descriptive" grammar. My inclination would be to cut out the deadwood and that would be to go with the prescriptive grammarians whose notion is that there are a few rules that make sense and point to the better evolution of our usage. One of them is that you can't modify the noun "deal" with the adjective "big" and concurrently incorporate a prepositional phrase into the same sentence without making it sound stupid. "Of" doesn't belong in the sentence. Call it colloquial if you like when you use that expression. It sounds stupid because it is stupid.

YogiOnefromObie September 25, 2008, 5:32pm

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