Title bout

“Title bout”: Wayno’s title for yesterday’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro:

(#1) Irresolvable stylistic choices? You could just punt, and avoid having to make any choice (if you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page.)

Actually, it’s worse that this; between panels 2 and 3, there should be 2.5:

Based off true events

There are then three bits of variation in form:

(a) the choice of P[reposition] upon vs. P on with the PSP based (and with the V base generally, as in base the story on/upon an old myth); the variation is much more general, applying to a wide swath of uses of the P on (The boy stood (up)on the buring deck, etc.)

(b) the choice of P off vs. P on specifically with the PSP based (and with the V base elsewhere, as in base the story on/off an old myth)

(c) the choice of extended P off of vs. simple off with the PSP based (and with the V base generally, as in base the story off of an old myth); the variation is much more general, applying to a wide swath of uses of the P off (The boy jumped off (of) the burning deck, etc.)

(There are tons of complexities in the full story, but this should do for now.)

The three alternations are quite different in character. Boiling down some information from the literature…

— The alternation in (a) is long-standing, and both variants should be treated as standard, though on is substantially more common, and many view upon as a bit more formal than on. Some usageasters recommend against upon, presumably on the silly theory that shorter variants should always be preferred to longer ones.

— The alternation in (c) is also long-standing, but the “innocuous idiom” off of (MWDEU) has been widely slammed by usageasters, as e.g. “vulgarly superfluous” (Alfred Ayres, 1881). MWDEU cites AmE examples from all over the place, concluding that it is generally more conversational in tone than simple off, but that that is no reason to avoid it. (Unless, of course, you insist, irrationally, that the shorter variants should always be preferred to the longer ones.)

— The alternation in (b) is a different kettle of fish. Forms of base off (of) are recent enough that they get no mention in MWDEU, in Bryan Garner’s usage manuals, or even in OED3 (Sept. 2011). Discussion on the American Dialect Society mailing list in 2006 clearly indicated, however, that it had become common in casual speech and writing in AmE, especially among younger speakers.

The motivation for the variant is murky; some commenters suggested diffidently that based off (of) might somehow be a blend of based on and take off. My own impression at the time was that users seemed to find based off more vivid than based on (some texts had the two variants together) — but that, in any case, the motivation was probably to achieve a semantic nuance.

I don’t have the resources to do the appropriate searches for examples in their contexts, so I have no idea what the envelope of variation is like (this might be a good research project for someone). I do know that it’s easy to find examples of the usage outside the passive ones. A few of these active examples:


Whitehead based his book off a question, “what if the Underground Railroad was a real railroad?” (link)

Compare this to Jünger, who saw years of intense combat at every stage of the conflict and based his book off his wartime diaries. (link)


[re Upton Sinclair in The Jungle] Based his book off of things he had seen (link)

The author’s great uncle was who the book was based on [note passive based on]. The author (Adam Bagdasarian) based his book off of his great uncle’s experiences. (link)

(Please do not write just to say how barbarous, nonsensical, ungrammatical, etc. you find base off (of); that’s just spewing abuse. I don’t use these variants myself, and probably never will, and I’m not recommending them. But though clearly not (yet) standard, they are now established usages for a great many speakers — Wayno among them, I see. The question, as always, is who uses which of these variants, in what contexts, for what purposes.)

2 Responses to “Title bout”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    You may have used it before, but I can’t recall having seen the word “usageaster” prior to this post. I like it. (My spell-checker does not, however.)

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