Not That Big of a Deal
A reader dislikes this commonly heard idiom:
This is a losing battle, I’m sure. I constantly hear – and am annoyed by – people expressing reservations about something with phrases like “It’s not that big of a deal,” or “It’s not that good of a movie” etc. As far as I know, the “of” is superfluous; you just say “not that big a deal” or “not that good a movie.” Adding the “of” seems unnecessary and grating to me. I’d be interested in your thoughts on this point.
The reader is correct in feeling that the “of” in “not that big of a deal” is superfluous. As one of the writers at The Grammarphobia blog points out, “An extra word can be justified if it serves an emphatic or supportive purpose, as in “first time ever” or “three different times.”
Adding of to “not that big a deal” and “not that good a movie” serves no emphatic or supportive purpose. Nevertheless, “big of a deal” is commonly heard in spoken English and, judging by the Ngram Viewer, seems to be creeping into print. The first year the phrase “big of a deal” occurs on the Ngram Viewer is 1945. It doesn’t make much of a showing in print until the 1980s, when it shoots upward.
The usage may have originated by analogy with the standard construction in which a noun is described by another noun (noun + “of a” + noun):
I have a whale of a tale to tell you, Lads.
San Andreas is a disaster of a movie.
My girlfriend has been dating a loser of a boyfriend.
The dog has made a hell of a mess in the garage.
The pattern adjective + “of a” + noun is also standard—some of the time. For example, some adjectives of quantity are used in this way:
One effect of this mechanism is to make it extremely difficult for third party or independent candidates ever to make much of a showing in the Electoral College.
But for many researchers, having equal numbers of women and men in the scientific ranks is less of a priority than having a system that is fair and furthers science itself.
That’s more of a commitment than many emerging market investors want to make.
You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs.
Big and good are adjectives of quality. “It wasn’t that good of a supper” is all right as dialect, but it’s nonstandard.
The “big of a deal” construction may have migrated from dialect to the ranks of colloquialism, but it still has no place in written English, other than in dialogue or direct quotation.
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