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Of 'of' Options
rob
Posted: Friday, September 3, 2010 4:25:45 AM

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I am confused about the entry in the O.E.D. for the word 'of' particularly sense XIV which reads:


"OF" XIV. In the sense belonging or pertaining to; expressing possession and its converse: "the owner of the house", "the house of the owner".

Formerly expressed by the genitive, and still to some extent by the possessive case (with transposition of order). The use of "of" began in Old English with senses 47, 48, expressing origin. After the Norman Conquest the example of the French "de", which had taken the place of the L. genitive, caused the gradual extension of "of" to all uses in which Old English had the genitive; the purely possessive sense was the last to be so affected, and it is that in which the genitive or "possessive" case is still chiefly used. Thus, we say the King's English, in preference to the English of the King; but the King of England in preference to England's King, which is not natural or ordinary prose English.



Can I substitute the words "owner" and "house" into the above and come up with this?

Thus, we say the owner's house, in preference to the house of the owner; but the owner of the house in preference to the house's owner, which is not natural or ordinary prose English.

In my opinion, this seems to be the only logical interpretation but I am still unsure. I have been desperately searching for any study of the logic of this mighty "little word but this seems to have never been studied, and there is precious little in traditional grammar concerning it." I have only found Martin, Richard Milton's chapter X OF 'OF' in Pragmatics, truth and language which I have quoted and is available at google book preview.

I am particularly interested in this sense of the word because of its close relationship to definition 50 which reads:

Belonging to a thing , as something related in a way defined or implied by its nature; e.g....the square, cube, logarithm, tangent, differential, or other mathematical function of. See under these words.

Could you tell me if my above interpretation is correct and help me find any studies concerning this sense of the word as it relates to definition 50?

Yours respectfully,
Rob
thar
Posted: Friday, September 3, 2010 4:56:25 AM

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Of is different from many of the words in modern English in that it comes from the norse, not the Anglo Saxon, Germanic, French, Latin or Greek.

The icelandic for of is 'af', the danish as well. ( as opposed to von, de, or genitive case)

English uses the 's possessive in a way that other modern European languages don't, but it also holds on to the old norse af. This gives a lot of choice in how things are said, and the two systems coexist.

The two ways have different subject and therefore focus of the sentence, the genitive noun in fact becomes an adjectival noun.

Prose will always prefer of, it just sounds better:
You are the keeper of my soul

but some phrases historically are said a certain way
You are the keeper of my soul, my heart's desire.

sometimes it is just what is easier to say
the dog's owner
the owner of the house

often it is what you want to make available for clauses
could the dog's owner please come forward.
could the owner of the dog which fouled the path, please come forward.

it is easier to treat 'of' as an adjectival clause and focus on the subject
the cubes sides are equal
the sides [of the cube] are equal

If you are looking for consistent rules in English usage, you ain't gonna find them!!



rob
Posted: Friday, September 3, 2010 5:09:37 AM

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Thank you thar for your reply, I have a question about your last example: "the cubes sides are equal," should this not be written as: "the cube's sides are equal?"
thar
Posted: Friday, September 3, 2010 5:17:07 AM

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rob wrote:
Thank you thar for your reply, I have a question about your last example: "the cubes sides are equal," should this not be written as: "the cube's sides are equal?"


you are right, I was concentrating on of not cube's! Shame on you
rob
Posted: Friday, September 3, 2010 6:00:36 AM

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If you look up 'of' in T.F.D. you'll find the interesting Usage note:

Usage Note: Grammarians have sometimes objected to the so-called double genitive construction, as in a friend of my father's; a book of mine. But the construction has been used in English since the 14th century and serves a useful purpose. It can help sort out ambiguous phrases like Bob's photograph, which could refer either to a photograph of Bob (that is, revealing Bob's image) or to one in Bob's possession. A photograph of Bob's can only be a photo that Bob has in his possession, which may or may not show Bob's image. Moreover, in some sentences the double genitive offers the only way to express what is meant. There is no substitute for it in a sentence such as That's the only friend of yours that I've ever met, since sentences such as That's your only friend that I've ever met and That's your only friend, whom I've ever met are awkward or inaccurate.
thar
Posted: Friday, September 3, 2010 6:25:28 AM

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I hold to the opinion that if I would naturally say it, and no-one hearing would think it ill-educated, then it is correct English. That one is a grey area, but you would definitely say
a friend of mine
not
a friend of me

by that logic, a friend of my father's is the correct one!

just goes to show, English is an illogical mixture of language, which just is the way it is.

There are always ambiguities that arise, and if it happens you just have to make the effort, use a different constructin or maybe add a word or so. 'His' is not always fit for purpose, eg
Bob's friend has his photo. Is the photo Bob's or of Bob?
Still, English does generally manage to have a route available since there are so many ways of saying things.

Sometimes things that technically mean the same are 'hijacked' by common usage to mean different things:
A photo of Bob
will always only mean one thing, so if you want to say something else you could say:
Bob's photo.
frankly in most cases the meaning would then be obvious. If you are talking about Bob's passport application it is unlikely to refer to Bob's stunning landscapes or erotic art!

I think it is more likely that both of Bob and of Bob's exist because of natural variation rather than a specific need, and as long as you can use both without it sounding wrong they will both survive.

Cass
Posted: Friday, September 3, 2010 1:24:41 PM

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Thar - may I just say that I love reading your explanations of the English language? You explain so well, so clearly and concisely, that it is a pleasure to read. GrammarGeek has the same facility for explaining the ins and outs of grammar. I know when something doesn't sound right but I could never explain why. I am learning such a lot from you both.
blue2
Posted: Friday, September 3, 2010 2:49:57 PM

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If you want a general rule to go by, the genetive 's or s' is not usually used with inanimate objects.
"The walls of the house" rather than "the house's wall". But you would say "There are some nice pictures on Jenny's wall."
You must be careful though to recognise when there is possession. At the bus station here there is a sign that reads: Ticket's Office. It should be: Ticket Office.
"Ticket" is telling us what the function of the office is; the tickets are not "of" the office.


thar
Posted: Friday, September 3, 2010 3:07:30 PM

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blue2 wrote:
If you want a general rule to go by, the genetive 's or s' is not usually used with inanimate objects.
"The walls of the house" rather than "the house's wall". But you would say "There are some nice pictures on Jenny's wall."
You must be careful though to recognise when there is possession. At the bus station here there is a sign that reads: Ticket's Office. It should be: Ticket Office.
"Ticket" is telling us what the function of the office is; the tickets are not "of" the office.




agree, you are right about some inanimate objects not taking the possessive, but some can
( I feel the room's aura, It came through the car's windscreen)
and concepts can (I await war's end)

I think put it the other way, named people always do take the possessive
Bob's photo, Bob's room, King's English.

but not always
The Tao of Pooh!

and unnamed people and other animates seem to fit in either depending on style and need:
my parents' friends, friends of my parents
the dog's owner, the owner of the dog

but sometimes it is fixed
hair of the dog!

I think it is complicated because so many uses of 'of' are not actual possessives
party of the year
best of the best
King of England ( I would argue this is 'pertaining to' rather than 'possessed by' -I am sure that is another listing in the dictionary)
thar
Posted: Friday, September 3, 2010 3:22:10 PM

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Cass wrote:
Thar - may I just say that I love reading your explanations of the English language? You explain so well, so clearly and concisely, that it is a pleasure to read. GrammarGeek has the same facility for explaining the ins and outs of grammar. I know when something doesn't sound right but I could never explain why. I am learning such a lot from you both.


Thanks Cass, nice to hear. I enjoy language, and English is endlessly fascinating, just when you think you know something this forum keeps on challenging me to think 'why is it this way?' I don't have much actual training in grammatical terms so I just go with what feels right.

I feel sort of paternal to English, because Icelandic is a language that hasn't changed in over a thousand years, while English is the rebelious kid who grew up, left home, had lots of adventures, made lots of strange friends and had a big party. It is a chaotic mess in grammar, tense use, use of prefix and suffixes, and spelling (pronounce ough anybody?) but as Shakespeare says: "a great feast of languages" Anxious
grammargeek
Posted: Friday, September 3, 2010 3:44:57 PM

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Cass wrote:
Thar - may I just say that I love reading your explanations of the English language? You explain so well, so clearly and concisely, that it is a pleasure to read. GrammarGeek has the same facility for explaining the ins and outs of grammar. I know when something doesn't sound right but I could never explain why. I am learning such a lot from you both.


What a nice compliment, Cass! Thank you.
rob
Posted: Friday, September 3, 2010 4:30:09 PM

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I would like to ask thar about his two comments:

#1) "I think put it the other way, named people always do take the possessive
Bob's photo,..."

The usage note that I posted stated:

"ambiguous phrases like Bob's photograph, which could refer either to a photograph of Bob (that is, revealing Bob's image) or to one in Bob's possession. A photograph of Bob's can only be a photo that Bob has in his possession, which may or may not show Bob's image."

#2) "but sometimes it is fixed hair of the dog!"

As the subject of this forum stated, using the definition as a guide:

Thus, we say the owner's house, in preference to the house of the owner; but the owner of the house in preference to the house's owner, which is not natural or ordinary prose English.

The dog's hair in preference to the hair of the dog; but the dog of the hair in preference to the hair's dog, which is not natural or ordinary prose English.


rob
Posted: Friday, September 3, 2010 5:31:44 PM

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blue2 wrote:

"At the bus station here there is a sign that reads: Ticket's Office. It should be: Ticket Office.
"Ticket" is telling us what the function of the office is; the tickets are not "of" the office. "

Hmmm... lets see:
The office's tickets is where passangers can buy their tickets verus
The ticket office is where passangers can buy their tickets.

The tickets do belong to the office until the passangers buy them and as you said "the function of the office is" selling tickets.

May I add to your excellent comment:
"You must be careful though to recognise when there is possession" and what is its defined or impled nature.

This is outlined in definition 50 as:
Belonging to a thing, as something related in a way defined or implied by its nature or
Belonging to the office, as tickets related in away defined or implied by their nature.

Following sense XIV:
The office's tickets in preference to
the tickets of the office;but
the office of tickets in preference to
ticket's office which is not natural or ordinary prose English.


thar
Posted: Friday, September 3, 2010 6:01:02 PM

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rob wrote:
I would like to ask thar about his two comments:

#1) "I think put it the other way, named people always do take the possessive
Bob's photo,..."

The usage note that I posted stated:

"ambiguous phrases like Bob's photograph, which could refer either to a photograph of Bob (that is, revealing Bob's image) or to one in Bob's possession. A photograph of Bob's can only be a photo that Bob has in his possession, which may or may not show Bob's image."

Not sure exactly what you are querying here, but here goes
I would argue the only possessive here is Bob's photo (which, as you say, could mean either). But the photo of Bob can only mean the non-possessive form (the photo pertaining to Bob, not belonging to), so that fits in with the postulation that a named person would take 's for the possessive.


#2) "but sometimes it is fixed hair of the dog!"

hair of the dog is an idiom, it means alcohol taken to cure a hangover. It only works as a phrase, not as dog's hair. Thus the prose style, used as an idiom uses of. I used it as an example that you cannot categorically say that the animate's possessives are always amenable to working both ways.

As the subject of this forum stated, using the definition as a guide:

Thus, we say the owner's house, in preference to the house of the owner; but the owner of the house in preference to the house's owner, which is not natural or ordinary prose English.

The dog's hair in preference to the hair of the dog; but the dog of the hair in preference to the hair's dog, which is not natural or ordinary prose English.


rob
Posted: Saturday, September 4, 2010 7:59:04 AM

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The very first line in the definition reads:

"OF" XIV. In the sense belonging or pertaining to...

which means under this sense: #1)belonging to OR #2)pertaining to... are being grouped together.

Yet your comment: "King of England ( I would argue this is 'pertaining to' rather than 'possessed by'...
clearly shows that you are NOT following the convention of grouping them together under one sense.

You then go on to say: "... -I am sure that is another listing in the dictionary)"
but as the first line in the definition has clearly stated these two are being considered TOGETHER and not as another listing in the dictionary.

Thus your arguement is not consistent with the O.E.D.
OF" XIV. In the sense belonging or pertaining to; expressing possession and its converse: "the owner of the house", "the house of the owner".

Where expressing possession is paired with "the owner of the house"
and its converse, being expressing belonging is paired with "the house of the owner" which is an expression of the belonging that the house has to the owner.

Thus, we say the King's English, in preference to the English of the King; but the King of England in preference to England's King, which is not natural or ordinary prose English.

thar
Posted: Saturday, September 4, 2010 11:35:53 AM

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you can be King of spades, king of the swingers, King of New York, king of nerds.

But no way would this make sense as spades' king, swingers' king, New York's king, nerds' king. It is not possessed by them, but is describing itself in relation to, pertaining to . Certainly when expressing this idea you can only use the 'of' expression, never the possessive.

I am agreeing with oed that 'of' can mean both possessive or pertaining to; so not all the uses of 'of ' can be expressed using the possessives 's. ie they are different usages, where possessive 'of' has the 's option not available to other usages: king of, best of , out of, memory of etc.
I am sure oed addresses this, although it may be complicated by the fact that pertaining to will be synonymous both with relating to and belonging to.

ach, ending a sentence with a propostion feels wrong, but I don't think I am getting out of that one!
rob
Posted: Saturday, September 4, 2010 6:51:45 PM

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thar wrote:
"I am sure oed addresses this, although it may be complicated by the fact that pertaining to will be synonymous both with relating to and belonging to."

The O.E.D. is addressing this when it states:
"expressing possession and its converse"
where {the converse of possession } is belonging

If anyone is interested, chapter X in the book that I mentioned at the beginning of this forum is available at google book preview. I also found this excellent discussion at a web site called Maverick Philosopher:

A. Subjective Uses of 'Of.' 'The presidency of Bill Clinton was rocked by scandal.' 'The redness of her face betrayed her embarrasment.' 'She cited the lateness of the hour as her reason for leaving.' The presidency of Bill Clinton is Bill Clinton's presidency. And similarly in the other two examples.

Here 'of' expresses possession or belonging. The sharpness of the knife is the knife's sharpness. The wife of Tom is Tom's wife. The uncle of the monkey is the monkey's uncle. The ace of spades is the ace belonging to the spade suit. A jack of all trades is all trades' jack. Of course, if you want to be understood in English you cannot say, 'Marvin is all trades' jack.' But that's irrelevant.

The set of natural numbers is the natural numbers' set. The set of all sets is all sets' set.

'Several are the senses of "of."' The 'of' which is used -- as opposed to mentioned -- functions subjectively inasmuch as the thought could be put as follows: '"Of"'s senses are several.'

The square root of -1 is -1's square root.
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