A Word, Please: She's not that kind of girl

I have just received a letter from the parking division of the city of Los Angeles. Seems they want me to pay the already-late parking ticket on my black Jaguar.

Apparently, they have no silly hang-ups about whether this is actually my car. It's not. Jags are way out of my league. The car, I might be able to afford; but the towing and repair bills no doubt would bankrupt me.

The city didn't even have any compunctions about demanding the $25-fee from someone named "June Casagrqande" and sending it to "June Casagrande." After all, what's an extra Q between friends?

Seeing as L.A. was so comfortable making errors that would embarrass an obsolete PC covered with magnets, I figured I'd mirror the city's laid-back attitude with a dose of adorable humor in my written appeal, which I submitted through the city's website (a handy innovation that can compound the insult of a don't-call-us-we'll-get-back-to-you reply by issuing it through a machine instead of a human being).

I wrote: "I have never driven, ridden in or even seen this black Jaguar," at which point I threw in for fun, "I'm more a Corolla kind of girl." (That should appeal to the whimsical sense of humor that parking-enforcement bureaucrats are so famous for, right?)

But I hesitated at "more." This is one of those contexts in which it's all too easy to insert an erroneous "of" and say "more of a Corolla kind of girl." Yet somewhere in my memory banks (which, weak though they may be, are much better than the L.A. parking department files) I remembered that these "ofs" are frowned upon by some.

Joe is not that big of a sports fan.

The runner is not in so good of a shape.

They didn't have too difficult of a time finding a parking space.

It wasn't that long of a movie.

None of these requires an "of." But when folks follow "that," "how," "too" or "as" with an adjective, they often throw in an extra "of" that serves no grammatical purpose.

Experts dispute whether the added "of" is actually bad.

"The word 'of' often intrudes where it doesn't idiomatically belong," according to "Garner's Modern American Usage," which cites the real-world examples "not that big of a deal" and "not that smart of a student" as poor choices and says they'd be better as "not that big a deal" and "not that smart a student."

The British "Fowler's Modern English Usage" takes a more detached view, noting that the construction has been "observed so far only in American English sources," adding, "No British English examples have been noted yet."

Then there's "Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage," which offers a more thorough examination. Noting that this phenomenon is much more common in speech than in writing, this guide calls this "a fairly recent American idiom."

The guide's authors couldn't find any examples of this usage earlier than 1942. They point out that this construction is akin to phrases like "kind of a" or "sort of a," which are much better established and, arguably, more logical.

None of these guides offer a good examination of how "more" and "much" work with "of a." But I'd guess that they're somewhere in between — more widely accepted than "that big of a" and less accepted than "kind of a."

To play it safe, I usually try my sentence without the "of." If nothing's lost, I leave the "of" out.

Perhaps if I were more of a stickler, I'd see things differently. But then I'd be less a kind of girl able to charm city collection thugs and more an out-25-bucks kind of girl.

JUNE CASAGRANDE is author of "It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences." She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.

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