Based off of.

Dave Wilton at Wordorigins.org posts about a phenomenon that I had (as best I can recall) noticed but not really registered:

In my students’ (mostly 18-20-year-olds) writing, I have found an almost universal tendency to write based off of instead of based on. I have been correcting this, but I’m wondering, since it’s nearly universal among them, if this is an example of the language changing and something that I shouldn’t bother with. (Preposition usage is a particularly fluid aspect of language.)

What say you all?

For some reason, it doesn’t bother me the way other grammatical innovations do (like “may have” for “might have”); I’ll never use it myself, but I can accept it with grace. Syntinen Laulu, in a response to Dave’s post, has a sensible explanation:

Odd as it sounds, I can see some logic to it. As long as you conceive of a base as a solid foundation, that you can place something securely on, you will find it natural to say based on.

But if you grew up hearing it more often used in airbase, moon base, military base and the like, you might well think of a base more as a jumping-off point, and find it natural to say based off.

Comments

  1. Rodger C says:

    I agree with Syntinen Laulu (Laulu Syntinen?). A similar shift is from “centered on” to “centered around.” A dynamic metaphor is being substituted for a static one. Re “based off,” cf. base jumping, where the base is the highest point.

  2. Syntinen Laulu
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Earth_Is_a_Sinful_Song

    A similar thing can be seen in on/off the back of.

  3. Rodger C says:

    Thanks. It just looked to me like a typical Finnish name turned around.

  4. Put me down as an old fart, but “based off of” bugs me. I see it frequently in the Washington Post these days, where either it gets past the editors or the editors have vanished en masse.

    It may be telling that I also feel a quiver of distaste at sentences such as “Based on our investigation, we found that…”

  5. John Cowan says:

    The historical change beat someone > beat up someone > beat up on someone is similar, although the three are not quite semantically equivalent either.

  6. J.W. Brewer says:

    It seems parallel to “work off (of)” X, glossed by various online sources attempting to explain the idiomatic mysteries of English phrasal verbs as “start with; build on” or “use something as a template or point of guidance.” The “of” is often optional there, but since “work off X” can also mean various completely different things, the “of” may be helpful in avoiding ambiguity if the context may not do so clearly enough.

  7. AJP Crown says:

    Interesting. It’s good to know about. If ‘based off of’ were in the American language, I’d have no problem with it. You know, do what you like, it’ll probably lead to something interesting; that’s the American way. But as ‘English’ it’s hideous, unnecessary and even what did Trump call the British ambassador? Pompous.

    I may try using it in the coming weeks.

  8. John Cowan says:
  9. Stu Clayton says:

    Lots of mention and scare quotes above. My all-time favorite set is in a footnote in one of Firbank’s novels, to wit Flower Beneath the Foot (you might call the footnote pompous, artificial and awfully funny):

    * The missing articles were:
    5 chasubles.
    A relic-casket in lapis and diamonds, containing the Tongue of St. Thelma.
    4 3/4 yards of black lace, said to have “belonged to” the Madonna.

  10. What does “based off of” mean? Does it mean based on? Maybe. Does it mean launched from or jumps off of? Maybe.
    “Based off of” is yet another example of a spatial metaphor that has lost touch with its literal meaning. IMHO opinion this phenomenon is a problem. Instead of meaningful metaphorical constructions that genuinely inform an argument or explanation, what you get is weakly connective phrases that appear initially to provide some explanatory power but on examination are just a way to get from A to B.

    If I were teaching writing I would tell my students this:
    A base is something that something else stands on.
    Can you say “I am standing off of the sidewalk?” No.
    So you can’t say A is based off of B.
    Every time you find yourself writing “based” try substituting “stands.” If the sentence doesn’t express what you mean, you need to rewrite it.

  11. Idioms are not based on logic. If you try to analyze English phrasal verbs logically, you will go mad.

  12. Stu Clayton says:

    Go with the flow,
    Your top don’t blow !
    When in Rome
    Lie low.

    Das HB Männchen

  13. ktschwarz says:

    My favorite scare-quotes in literature, from Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life”:

    We made steady progress decoding the grammar of the spoken language, Heptapod A. It didn’t follow the pattern of human languages, as expected, but it was comprehensible so far: free word order, even to the extent that there was no preferred order for the clauses in a conditional statement, in defiance of a human language “universal.” It also appeared that the heptapods had no objection to many levels of center-embedding of clauses, something that quickly defeated humans. Peculiar, but not impenetrable.

    Little punctuation marks that say so much!

  14. Stu Clayton says:

    Was that the basis for the film Arrival ?

    <* checks *> Yes.

  15. John Cowan says:

    Can you say “I am standing off of the sidewalk?” No.

    There are plenty of ghits for standing off of. It seems to show up a lot in statutes, police reports, and court transcripts.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    “awful, pompous, and artificial”

    Fun fact: künstlich has undergone the same meaning shift as artificial during the same time.

    plenty of ghits for standing off of

    On the first page, half the examples are fake (e.g. with a comma or a hyphen somewhere), and the other half all seem to refer to standing at some distance of something, not on it.

  17. John Cowan says:

    Well, off of it can hardly mean ‘on it’, so I’m not sure what you’re saying here. I agree that there is a connotation of ‘some distance off it’ rather than ‘immediately off it’.

  18. I think you can say standing off of, but it doesnt mean standing on. Those g hits are mostly going to be people standing off of the sidewalk– on the street. I can understand based off of as an actual spactial metaphor, as in the US navy is based off of the main island of Puerto Rico, on Vieques. But I’m guessing that’s not how the naughty children are using it.

  19. ktschwarz says:

    Chicago currently prohibits “off of” on the grounds that it’s informal, but it’s their business to be conservative. Of course, searching “based off of” and “chicago manual” brings up loads of presses, journals, and universities stating that “our style is based off of Chicago”.

    It seems only fair to warn students that this is currently a popular peeve and there are plenty of professors who will mark them down for it, even if Dave Wilton doesn’t. Know your audience.

    Meanwhile, “based on” isn’t the only expression that’s been shifting: “get blitzed off of (a drug)”, “riff off of”, and “capitalize off of” have all made it into the New Yorker recently. I would have used “on”, so I guess that makes me old. It’s just fashion.

  20. David Marjanović says:

    Well, off of it can hardly mean ‘on it’, so I’m not sure what you’re saying here.

    I thought you meant that stand off of was replacing stand on.

    It seems to me that there’s long been some confusion between off and off of. I have some, at least.

  21. AJP Crown says:

    there’s long been some confusion between off and off of.

    Is there any circumstance where the of is needed? I don’t think so, I never use the phrase at any rate. So just lop off the of. I’m guessing it started in another language as a literal translation, like schon as Jewish ‘already’.

  22. a possibly new one I hear a lot: my students all say “search it up!” constantly (to refer to Googling something).

  23. ktschwarz says:

    Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage on “off of”:

    Off of is a compound preposition made of the adverb off and the preposition of and has been in use at least since Shakespeare’s “a fall off of a tree” (2 Henry VI).

    In the last quarter of the 19th century some American commentators began to find fault with it, finding the of superfluous. Dozens of commentators have followed suit. What most of these commentators have in common is an unfamiliarity with the actual use of the phrase. While British literary usage has receded into the past, American writers have found off of idiomatic: [long list of examples snipped]

    You can see that in American English off of is used in contexts ranging from uneducated (Huck Finn) to general. Recent commentators who still say off of should be avoided are out of touch with reality. If it is part of your personal idiom and you are not writing on an especially elevated plane, you have no reason to avoid off of.

    That’s the badass MWCDEU that we know and love! Non-Americans can do what they like, but here in America, spatial off of is perfectly normal and the New Yorker has no problem with “transported off of the island”, “drove his Porsche off of a cliff”, “sanded the psychedelic paintwork off of their guitars”. (The of isn’t *required*; “thrown off the roof”, “got off the L train” are fine too.)

  24. Hear, hear!

  25. I don’t recall having noticed “based off [of]” ever. I could invent a distinction that “based on” indicates some degree of permanent connection or fidelity to the source, whereas “based off [of]” suggests a mere jumping-off point obliterated by subsequent revisions.

    “Off of” as distinct from “off” strikes me as a recent Americanism. I know not to trust such impressions. I need a diachronic-geographic survey of cover versions of “Can’t take my eyes off you”.

  26. ktschwarz says:

    Separated by a Common Language has addressed “off of” and “out of” in British vs. American.

  27. To me, “get off the train” means only ‘disembark from [the interior of] the train.’ “Get off of the train” can mean that, but more so it means ‘come down from the roof of the train.’

  28. Stu Clayton says:

    “Get off of my cloud” also has no reference to interiors.

  29. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Stu:

    The Flower Beneath the Foot!

    (I’ve actually got nothing to say, I just approve of people mentioning Firbank novels on principle. Could you do Ivy Compton-Burnett next?)

  30. David Marjanović says:

    strikes me as a recent Americanism

    On the other hand, my impression is that Get off my lawn! is a very American phrase. 🙂

  31. It sounds to me like off of involves a change of position from a high place, so get off of my lawn sounds a bit, well, off, while get off of my roof or jump off of a cliff are acceptable. In all these cases, off alone works too.

    Incidentally, per the Goggle, based off of started off in the 1970s.

  32. John Cowan says:

    There are lots of fixed idioms that have to be get off without of, and get off the train/bus/ship/boat/plane is one. However, I’m getting offa this bus right now! sounds rather stilted with bare off. I would have no trouble saying Get offa my stoop! (in Manhattan we don’t have lawns), though I’m usually more tactful — it gets better results. And of course Last night he/she really got me off of is, in two words, im-possible.

  33. AJP Crown says:

    Shakespeare was of course a pedestrian. Why do you get off of a bus or out of a taxi but not on of a bus nor in of a cab? ‘In to’ maybe.

  34. Trond Engen says:

    On to and in to. Out of. Off of fills out the symmetry. Grammar is replicating patterns.

  35. John Cowan says:

    Over, sideways, and under on a magic carpet ride.

  36. Amanda Adams says:

    @John Cowan “The historical change beat someone > beat up someone > beat up on someone is similar, although the three are not quite semantically equivalent either.”
    Whatever happened to “beat someone up”? Decades ago when I taught a little English, this seemed important. But nowadays (yes, I live abroad; but I read US stuff) it seems to be “beat up x” vs “beat x up”; & “pick up Uncle Dick” instead of “pick Uncle Dick up” & so on…is it really international pressure? Or a natural migration…?

  37. John Cowan says:

    Whatever happened to “beat someone up”?

    Nothing; it gets slightly more Google hits than the alternative.

  38. Most examples cited here are in the form “[action verb] off of.” Being in the newspaper business I have noticed quite often that “off of” sneaks into print without an action verb in situations explaining a location: “The fire broke out at 65 Oak Street, which is off of West Street.” “A well-to-do neighborhood off of Forest Drive.”

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