How big of a deal is it? 
Posted: 30 December 2017 03:20 AM   [ Ignore ]
Total Posts:  1583
Joined  2007-02-14

I’ve long wondered what the of is doing in the expression ‘that big of a deal’ or others like it.  Any ideas about how old it is and whence it came?

Posted: 30 December 2017 09:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Total Posts:  4095
Joined  2007-02-26

I don’t know where it came from, but what I can tell you is:

1/ It’s not restricted to big or deal. It’s part of a general class of “adjective_of_degree of a noun” phrases. He’s not so good of a guy. I wasn’t expecting that small of a fee.  It just shows us how dumb of a man he is.

2/ It seems to be frowned upon by scholars, but many regular folks prefer it.

3/ It is similar to some more accepted forms, e.g. not many people would tut-tut at “that much of a deal”.

4/ There appears to be no mention of this form in the OED’s entry for “of”, which is where I would expect it to be covered.

5/ The common view seems to be that this form originated in the USA.

6/ Here are some early examples I found using Google Books.

December 1850 Duffy’s Fireside Magazine (an Irish publication), in a story called Adventures of an Irish Giant “by the late Gerald Griffin”.

that big of a squall you wouldn’t hear outside her lips from one end o’ the week to th’ other

1890 Grip magazine (a Canadian publication)

“Say, mister, how big of a hole is through that wire”

1894 Carlotta’s Intended by Ruth McEnery Stuart (an American author)

I’m jest that big of a dummy

Note that in each of these early cases, this form appears in direct quotation of a fictional character. It is reasonable to think that the term was in spoken use for some time before anyone recorded it in print. Also note that the similar forms using other adjectives ("small of a”, “long of a”, “great of a” etc) don’t start popping up until the mid 20th century, so perhaps “big of a” really was the first in this class.

Posted: 31 December 2017 12:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Total Posts:  1261
Joined  2007-03-01

It’s my impression (said she cautiously) that it isn’t native in the UK; I’m not aware of ever having heard it here, and whenever I read or hear ‘that big/small/dumb etc of a . . . ’ in a Leftpondian context it strikes my eye and ear as foreign.

To my mind, ‘that much of a’ is actually a slightly different construction, because here much is effectively doing duty as a noun, equivalent to amount, quantity, degree or some such word.

Posted: 31 December 2017 05:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Total Posts:  371
Joined  2007-02-24

Just found this:

Posted: 31 December 2017 06:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Total Posts:  4672
Joined  2007-01-29

From Eyehawk’s link:

Wow. Over twice as many instances of the wrong phrase … and you know what that means: “Not that big of a deal” is going to become standard. Language changes and rules change to follow. There’s nothing we can do to change that, so there’s no point in making too big a deal of it.

Right conclusion, wrong process.  It is not “the wrong phrase,” it’s one of two alternate constructions, and it’s clearly winning out.  This is an absolutely standard (and in fact inevitable) process in language, it’s why we’re not still speaking Proto-World.  I wish people could get over their desire to separate things (including words and phrases) into Good and Bad.

Posted: 31 December 2017 04:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
Total Posts:  864
Joined  2013-10-14

Usage note Expand

Of is sometimes added to phrases beginning with the adverb howor toofollowed by a descriptive adjective: How long of a drive will it be? It’s too hot of a day for tennis.This construction is probably modeled on that in which howor toois followed by much,an unquestionably standard use in all varieties of speech and writing: How much of a problem will that cause the government? There was too much of an uproar for the speaker to be heard.The use of of with descriptive adjectives after howor toois largely restricted to informal speech. It occurs occasionally in informal writing and written representations of speech.

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