Judy Sing, of Macomb, has been wondering about the common habit of sneaking “of a” between an adjective and its noun, as in “Sherman Grant is not that good of a driver.”
It depends on whom you ask, Judy. Most people in Sagebrush County will vouch for Sherman’s ineptitude as a driver, but many will point out that it’s hard to be a Dale Jr. when you’re driving a Yugo.
The question is whether it’s proper to say “that good of a driver.”
Buck is more inclined to say “that good a driver,” which is what Judy would say. One could also say “that good AS a driver.” But the debate is still going over the practice of using “of” in the expression.
“What we have here is a fairly recent American idiom,” observes Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. An idiom is an expression that doesn’t make much sense literally but has been imbued with a meaning of its own in popular usage.
“That big of ...” and similar expressions have not quite achieved a status exalted enough to give it a place in literary writing. Webster’s says it’s good enough to be used without reproof in spoken English, but “You will not want to use it much in writing, except of a personal kind.” So, maybe the safest way of putting it is “Sherman Grant’s driving is not that good.”
“How good of a deal could you make me if I traded in this used Yugo?” asked Sherman as he drove it into Cowboy Bill’s Used Car Corral.
“I’ve got this used Pinto,” said Cowboy. “I’ll sell it to you for $1,000, plus $500 to dispose of the Yugo.”
“That’s not too good a deal,” said Sherman, “but it’s the best offer I’ve heard so far.”
Send questions for Buck to BucksEnglish@aol.com. Please let Buck know what town you’re from. For other writing by Gene Owens, go to www.wadesdixieco.com.