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LINGUIST List 21.3778

Sat Sep 25 2010

Disc: Of 'of': Expressing Possession and Being Possessed

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        1.    Rob Aulak, Of 'of': Expressing Possession and Being Possessed

Message 1: Of 'of': Expressing Possession and Being Possessed
Date: 19-Sep-2010
From: Rob Aulak <robaulakgmail.com>
Subject: Of 'of': Expressing Possession and Being Possessed
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To whom it may concern,

I would like to discuss changes made to the definition of 'of' in the
Oxford English Dictionary (OED) from the 1989 edition to the 2010
edition. Below are 2 discussion topics regarding 2 changes to the
definitions of 'of' that I believe are significant:


Discussion Topic 1:

This was the definition of 'of' from the 1989 edition of the OED:

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.

I went on-line and found the September 2010 revision:

X. Expressing possession and being possessed
Eg 'the owner of the house', 'the house of the owner'. Generally
regarded as one of the central uses of the word.

Formerly expressed by the genitive case, and still to some extent by
the genitive of nouns (especially proper names) and possessive
adjectives (with transposition of order). The use of 'of' began in Old
English with senses 33, 34, expressing origin. After the Norman
Conquest the example of the French 'de', which had taken the place of
the Latin 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.

The 'pertaining to' condition has been removed and the choice of
words condensed to 'Expressing possession and being possessed'
along with the comment 'Generally regarded as one of the central uses
of the word,' is, in my opinion, significant.

Could somebody please help me interpret the difference between:

#1) Formerly expressed by the genitive, and still to some extent by the
possessive case (with transposition of order).

#2) Formerly expressed by the genitive case, and still to some extent
by the genitive of nouns (especially proper names) and possessive
adjectives (with transposition of order).


Discussion Topic 2:

I'd like to highlight another change below:

1989 OED version:
50. Belonging to a thing, as something related in a way defined or
implied by its nature where the its refers to the 'something' that belongs
to the thing.

And the 2010 OED on-line definition of 'of' which reads:
36. Belonging to a thing, as a logical consequence of its nature.

The 'something' that was mentioned in the earlier definition has been
strategically removed and been replaced by 'a logical consequence of'
the thing's nature.

In my opinion, by not mentioning the 'something' of the earlier
definition, valuable information has been lost concerning the intricate
nature of the relationship between this word and the thought it is
intended to convey in that context, though it could be argued that this
is a matter of grammar and not one of definition the change itself
seems to me to be overly strategic.

The two OED editions then go on to give the same examples:
e.g. the cause, effect, origin, reason, result of; the correlative,
counterpart, match, opposite, original of; a copy, derivative, image,
likeness of; the square, cube, logarithm, tangent, differential, or other
mathematical function of. See under these words.

Grouped as follows:
#1) the cause, effect, origin, reason, result of;
#2) the correlative, counterpart, match, opposite, original of;
#3) a copy, derivative, image, likeness of;
#4) the square, cube, logarithm, tangent, differential, or other
mathematical function of.

Could you please contact me with your thoughts about this particular
change in the definition of 'of,' as it relates to group #4.

Please keep in mind that as The Cambridge Grammar of the English
Language mentions: "'Of' is the most highly grammaticalised of all
prepositions."

Yours respectfully,
Rob


Linguistic Field(s): Lexicography

Subject Language(s): English (eng)
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