Monday, August 18, 2008

Of Off

Had I not walked up to this and photographed it, I would not have thought it possible for someone to mistake of and off. The slight variation between the two F's suggests the possibility that a prankster inserted the second F, but this would probably require taking the sign down from its free-hanging position to write the second F on a hard surface, and using a matching red pen, and doing so in public. Sadly, no, I suspect this was written at a single sitting by the same author, an English speaker who just hasn't encountered the words of or off frequently enough to distinguish the two.

The longer I stare at the words off and of, the more I am struck by their oddness. What is a single f doing at the end of an o, and is it enough to make a whole word? And does the second f at the end of off really help matters, or does their combination seem to overpower the weak vowel? I have to suspect that these very common English words, off and of, feature prominently in marking a passage as English-seeming when encountered by a non-English speaker, in the way that lots of W's and Y's flags a passage as Welsh-seeming or a surplus of doubled A's and E's flags a passage as Dutch-seeming.

2 comments:

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Oh, my. I hate it when people do that. One of the reasons I love type is because of something I used to to when small that I'm sure induced dain bramage.

I'd just look at a word, and look, and look, and look at it, until, just like those magic eye posters would suddenly produce a 3-D image, the word would somehow spontaneously dump all it's connections to lexical meaning and become just a collection of shapes.

Mind bending, but all of a sudden, I feel like I'm looking into the abyss.

On the more mundane side, if I let loose every time someone did something like that of/off onfusion you pictured (you know: "discreet" when they meant "discrete", "loose" when they meant "lose", and I've seen "literature" spelt "lititure" and "reality" (buying houses) spelt "reality") I surely would have been spending most of my life in jail. Sometimes in my working life I fancy I'm the only person who's ever learned to spell.

Dale said...

SJKP, definitely. Staring at any word for long enough tends to alienate it from its everyday meaning and use. It's an interesting cognitive thingy going on there, methinks.

As for these kinds of mistakes and What They Mean: perhaps I should lighten up, but I almost always jump to the conclusion that the person who made the mistake just doesn't read anything -- nothing at all, online or offline, highbrow or lowbrow or inbetween. Because it seems to me that common solecisms such as their/there, lose/loose, it's/its and uncommon ones such as of/off tend to work their way out of your system if you read even mildly competent writing on a routine basis. I would go as far as to say even reading OK! magazine or The Daily Oklahoman would tend to stamp out such flaws. So when I see a mistake such as this, it's not a happy thing. I picture someone really on the margins of this modern world of ours, on the outside looking in.