BORING.

Reading a NY Times Magazine article by Scott Anderson (reproduced here) about the dreadful situation in western Sudan, I was stopped in my tracks by the following sentence: “Pulling a stack of business cards from the pocket of his white robe, he read off a dizzying list of initials — W.H.O., W.F.P., I.R.C. — before boring of the task and setting them aside.” Boring of the task? This doesn’t sound to me like a marginal or dialectal usage, it sounds completely ungrammatical, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s not to trust my own judgments about acceptability. So: do any of you think this is an acceptable equivalent for “becoming bored with the task”? Would you write or say it yourself?
Addendum. See Mark Liberman’s statistical investigation at Language Log, wherein he unleashes his famed Google-fu and winds up continuing to agree with me that the construction just ain’t right, and his comparative and etymological discussion, titillatingly titled “Etymology porn.”

Comments

  1. Doesn’t sound right to me. I’d go with something like your “becoming bored with the task” or “before boring himself with the task”.

  2. It is odd. Seems like a crossover from “tiring”. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it seems like the effect of tiring can come from oneself (i.e. the process of becoming tired) but boring is normally external and must be marked by “himself”. This may just because I find myself endlessly fascinating to the point of exhaustion.

  3. It is most infelicitous. I don’t think it would even occur to me to use that phrase: it sounds as though he starting drilling holes in his stack of cards. “Tiring of the task” would be better.

  4. I find it marginal. It feels like it ought to work like “tiring”, but it doesn’t, quite. But my first instinct was that it was fine… What about:
    He bores easily.
    He soon bored of the conversation.
    My first thought was that the first was fine and the second totally unacceptable, but now I’ve reached the point where I’m not sure of either (the “bored” usage certainly seems more likely than it did before I wrote it down).

  5. Sounds absolutely fine to me, although I can’t find a dictionary that will agree with me on this; they all insist that the relevant sense of bore can only be transitive.

  6. It sounds OK to me too, though after repeating it a few times it sounds a bit stranger. There are a significant number of googlehits for the phrases “I bore of” and “I bored of.” Yet dictionaries don’t corroborate the grammaticality of that usage.
    Could it have something to do with confusion from using “bore” (past tense of “bear,” which can be used intransitively)? As in, I bore with your speech, even though it was long and boring. If you think THAT sounds OK, you might think that if you can “bore with X,” you can “bore of X,” even if the meaning of the two words is different. Alternately, you can say I am bored with X, and then the analogy to “tire/tired” seems a good one: to use intransitively you say I tire of X. So I can see how you might want to say I bore of X.
    In this particular sentence though, it seems mostly to be a convenience, as it reduces the amount of words (no subject repetitions; no reflexive pronouns; no “becoming”).

  7. Wow. Two OK’s and one “not sure” out of six responses — it’s doing far better than I expected, and once again I have to revise my ideas of what can work grammatically. But that’s why I asked!

  8. ben wolfson says:

    It looked bizarre to me when I just read it (being set off in bold may have contributed to that) but I don’t think I’d be put off if I heard it in conversation. I don’t think I’ve said it, though.

  9. Google finds three occurrences of “before boring of”, including that one, plus one spurious drilling reference.

  10. Reminds me of the lyrics of the #1 pop song when I was in Taiwan:
    ????? feel so boring ?????? bowling
    “Being in love makes me feel so boring [sic] I fall in love with bowling.” (Or something along those lines.)

  11. Huh? Why isn’t LanguageHat’s blog Unicode enabled!? Anyway, click on the link for the full song lyrics in Chinese.

  12. I think it sounds incorrect. But of course, he could be using it like “tiring of…” as someone else said. Still, it doesn’t sound like common usage to me. He could also be subversively trying to introduce a new gerund.

  13. Sounds OK to my UK ears. I’d say it.

  14. I think I like it. When I replace “boring of” with a more traditional alternative, eg “becoming bored with”, the sentence sounds a bit more cumbersome to me.
    But then I haven’t finished my coffee yet, so you never know.

  15. ben wolfson says:

    Actually, I realized as I was going to bed last night that I’d rather say “before getting bored of”.

  16. Going Dotty in Kansas says:

    Yet another instance of the old gray lady’s slipping standards. It’s clear enough from the context of the sentence what is meant, but if I had my druthers, I’d put a circle around “boring” with a “ww” over it, marked in red, and send it back to Scott. What do the prescripitivists say?

  17. Going Dotty in Kansas says:

    Yet another instance of the old gray lady’s slipping standards. It’s clear enough from the context of the sentence what is meant, but if I had my druthers, I’d put a circle around “boring” with a “ww” over it, marked in red, and send it back to Scott. What do the prescripitivists say?

  18. Going Dotty in Kansas says:

    Yet another instance of the old gray lady’s slipping standards. It’s clear enough from the context of the sentence what is meant, but if I had my druthers, I’d put a circle around “boring” with a “ww” over it, marked in red, and send it back to Scott. What do the prescripitivists say?

  19. Going Dotty in Kansas says:

    I think I have some very weird cookies on my PC. Apologies to all for the triple post there; I had absolutely no idea that was going to happen.(And if *this* comment posts three times, then I am going to shut off this PC and stand in the rain.)

  20. Hi, Kerim! When I was teaching English in Taiwan, one of the hardest things was the boring-bored type of distinction. People would say “I’m interesting in music.” It may be because “interesting” sounds more like verb of action, and being interested is an active state. Whereas “interested” sounds like a static state of being, which “being interested” really is not.
    I never succeeded.
    Another surprise was that my students claimed that they couldn’t find a Chinese equivalent of “A fool and his money are soon parted”. They responded with “sha-ren sha-fu” = “A fool has fool’s luck” (i.e. good luck). In Taiwan they seemed to have an affection for naive, goodhearted innocents, which they said were not to be found in Hong Kong, and still less so in Singapore.

  21. Interesting (re: Zizka’s fool example).
    Compare to rich folk tradition of Russian fairy tales about Ivan-durak (Ivan The Fool), who usually escapes with profit all kinds of dangerous adventures and beats the smart guys.
    Also the popular proverb “Durakam veseot” (Luck follows fools)…

  22. To me it sounds fine. I found plenty of examples of the “to bore of” construction through google. Clearly it is a part of a lot of people’s dialects.
    ” After watching my children start to bore of the rote worksheets, I developed a method
    that incorporated their current interests”
    “I had middle schoolers and they never seemed to bore of it”

  23. I think the word boring may be undergoing a crisis at the Times. In an article today by Alessandra Stanley about Jon Stewart’s appearance on Crossfire, she writes: “the Comedy Central star mocks the entire political process, boring in tightly on the lockstep thinking and complacency of the parties and the media as well as the candidates.” This sounds really strange to me–what do you all think? Can you bear in on something? It seems like the action of bearing or boring in this usage needs to be into something, not in on it. It seems confused with homing in on. Thoughts? (or did I just notice this as peculiar because I already had this Language Hat post on my mind?!?!)

  24. I wouldn’t write it that way myself, but it doesn’t sound wrong, either.

  25. Thoughts?
    Boring = drilling.

  26. All right, there are enough “doesn’t sound wrong”s that it’s clearly become part of the language while I wasn’t looking. Live and learn. (And Zizka, I had the same problem with “interesting” while teaching in Taiwan.)

  27. scarabaeus stercus says:

    From one that enjoys boring humans to death: I do like “becoming bored with the task” rather than “boring of the task” I sure doth think he secretly meant “boring of the Cask” after trying to unravel all those Acronyms that .Dot the landscape and are totally meaningless unless one is a USNGOH.
    Doth one Know LMS? I Drink to boring a cask of Vino P.S. ‘lms’: hell of a mess, or London Midland and Scottish. [Understanding no good officious human.]

  28. I posted some thoughts on this usage over on Language Log.
    Short form: I agree in finding it completely out, and it’s very rare on the net, but there are so many analogical sources that it’s kind of surprising not to find it in wider usage.

  29. I never heard the usage “to bore of;” however, there seems to be a case for the usage being acceptable in some places. But is there a pattern? Is it more acceptable in some dialect than in Standard American English, or Oxford English?

  30. That’s what I want to know as well.

  31. It’s utterly fine for me. Then again, a fair few things are fine for me but not for most other speakers (I’m from N. Ireland. My grammar is fairly close to English standard, but with Ulster constructions popping up here and there).
    It is, however, a primarily written construction. I most cases, it would be too stilted to use in speech. It would lend itself best to slightly archaic prose, and seeing it on the net, where the writing closest to the spoken language tends to appear, is a little strange in some contexts.
    It would never, I don’t think, occur idiomatically for me without some qualification, be it adverbs, exclamations… – ‘I bored of it’ as a sentence in itself except in narrative depicting a 17th century royal court is nigh on impossible.
    But if I nest it in such things, it becomes much more acceptable. If waiting around for something, I could see myself saying (thought not often):
    “Ach, for cryin(g) out loud, I’m boring o(f) this. Le(t)’s go.”
    The future is better -
    “I’ll bore of this quickly” is very good and pleasant to the ears, and again if I attach another clause:
    “I warn you, I’ll bore of this very quickly”
    That could easily occur in my colloquial speech, though probably not very frequently.
    Future continuous:
    “I’ll be boring of this quickly” or (better) “I’ll be boring of this quickly now”
    All right but not great, and it gets strange if we use ‘get’:
    “I’ll get boring of this quickly”
    (that would be very, very, very colloquial and have to occur almost as a slip of the tongue, and I probably wouldn’t say it. I dare say someone on the heavy side of the Ulster dialects could probably say this)
    The perfect would probably only occur in writing for me, but I can’t guarantee this:
    “I’ve bored of this quickly, haven’t I?”
    “I’ve bored of it already” (ever so slightly questionable unless in a question with heavy stress on the adverb: “Has (h)e bored of it _already_?”)
    And to be slightly flowery:
    “Quickly I bored of it and left for my supper”
    The pluperfect would, however, be fine:
    “I’d bored of it quickly”
    “I’d bored of it so fast I fell asleep right there”
    “It was right quiet, and I’d been boring of the thing all night”
    The future perfect would be OK:
    “I’ll’ve bored of it in no time”
    And the imperfect might happen as well. But the ordinary present, of course, would be the almost pure preserve of heavily archaic prose:
    “I bore of this. Put him in irons!”
    Of course, the far more speech-oriented and idomatic “getting bored of” would be the usual construction.

  32. Let me introduce “bored” in my maximal verb construction: “By November 3, I will have been being bored by the political ads for approximately six months.
    I’m not sure that the “will have been being” construction is ever actually usable, though perhaps more so in cother cases than this one. When would a passive progressive future perfect (if that’s what that is) be the best way of saying something?
    [In actual fact, I will have been being obsessed with the election for more than six months by Nov. 3. It was a hypothetical sentence.]

  33. Roughly a quarter of the bored of the occurrences are references to Harvard Lampoon’s Bored of the Rings. Even more appear to be take offs on it. What do those who never bore of anything make of that joke?

  34. An interesting point. I remember the book well (and even have a copy somewhere, probably in my dad’s garage — thinking of “Leg o’ Lamb” can still make me chuckle), and I think I took it as an ungrammatical pun made for the sake of the rhyme. But it does seem slightly less ungrammatical in the past tense; I can accept “I’m bored of it” much more easily than “I’m boring of it.”

  35. It sounds bizarre and “jes plain wrong” to my ears. — Enough so that my instinct is to see it as a typo for “tired” (someone was switching from “tired of” to “got bored with,” or vice versa, and lost their focus) rather than as an organic development of English usage.

  36. Slight update on my intuitions: might occur on its own in the present continuous:
    “How’re you goin’?”
    “I’m boring of it.”

  37. vernaculo says:

    I read half-way through the comments before boring of the task, but I read right through the citation without catching the clunk of misuse. The first time.
    The second time it stuck out, but you did that.
    So aha!
    Here’s where the language becomes itself. Here’s where felicity is nurtured or refused. Right here, on the ground, at Language Hat.
    Hey.

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