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Are You Fed Up of Preposition Creep?

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P.J. Vogt of “Reply All”

Now that my kids are out of the house and I’m in the process of retiring from teaching, I have to be more creative in my efforts to find out how young people are using the language. One place I like to look, or listen, is the excellent “Reply All” podcast, specifically the talk of P.J. Vogt, one of the hosts, who was born in 1985. He says “off-ten,” he’s fond of super as an intensifier and like as, like, a qualifier, and in the most recent episode he used the word overthinky. (Here’s my take on the trend of -y adjectives.)

But my favorite recent P.J.-ism came a couple of weeks back, when he said he was “exhausted of take-out [food].” That excited me because it was a brand-new (to me) example of what I call “preposition creep.”

The trend involves familiar words swapping out their customary prepositions: different from shifting to different than, enamored of  to enamored with, bored with to bored of, by accident to on accident, excited about to excited for, obsessed by to obsessed with.

I tried to explain the development in a Lingua Franca post a few years back. In the first five examples, I think it comes from people’s following the prepositional example of a similar expression that seems stronger: respectively, other (or bigger, stronger, etc.) than, in love with, tired of, on purpose, and hungry for. As for obsessed, I hypothesized a psychological explanation: “If I say that ‘A is obsessed by B,’ then B is doing the obsessing, in a sort of witchcraft model. But ‘A is obsessed with B’ is more about A, and his or her mental state.”

Clearly, in veering off from the traditional exhausted byP.J.’s exhausted of follows the tired of/bored of model, and when I investigated I found that it’s not alone in doing so. As Nancy Friedman alerted me when I brought this up on Twitter, in 2007 and 2008 there was a long discussion on the Wordreference.com language forum about fed up of as a variant of fed up with. Some commenters had never encountered it; of those who had, the majority were from Britain. That is borne out by a search for “fed up of” on Google News: All of the first 10 hits come from Britain or the Commonwealth countries India and New Zealand. The first item is a headline from the Norwich Evening News: “I’m fed up of poor film sequels — things aren’t always better second time around.” (The British use several other prepositions that seem off to American ears, including different to and “I live in [instead of on] Covington Street.”)

Exhausted of presents a different picture: a mere 2,500 hits on Google News as opposed to more than 88,000 for fed up of. And the new meaning is even rarer than the number indicates, as some uses are in the traditional sense of “depleted of” (a resource, for example). The examples meaning “very tired of” come from mainly from the U.S., although also from Britain and India. And I was a bit surprised to find the of variant is also used by some older people, such as the Fox News commentator Chris Stirewalt: “Democrats should be even more exhausted of hearing from and about Hillary Clinton then [sic] we are of writing about her — and that’s saying a lot.”

However, I believe that it’s mainly a young-people thing. The first Google News hit is from a student newspaper at the University of California at Davis, and most of the other examples I’ve seen come from the under-30 set, including the earliest one, a 2014 Facebook post by the singer Sky Ferreira (born 1992):

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Age matters. That is, I think Ferreira and Vogt, in using exhausted of, aren’t only following the tired of model. They also, consciously or not, are declaring that they’re young: letting their idiomatic freak flag fly. And that’s not on accident.

 

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