Date: Thu, 4 Dec 1997 07:32:50 -1000

From: Norman Roberts nroberts[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]HAWAII.EDU

Subject: Re: Responsibility of (Was: No Heading)

At 09:31 AM 12/4/97 -0500, you wrote:

I just finished 15 papers on Paradise Lost. Three of them described Adams'

responsibility OF Eve's actions. Coincidence, collusion or something else?

Maybe they (con)fuse responsibility (for) with control or charge (of). Or

(this is a joke!) they are taking advantage of the fact that English was

still loose about some issues in the mid 17C -- I was just discussing on

another list the mid-17C poet Marvell's use of uncessant rather than modern


Maybe not a joke, though -- OED2 has a separately numbered submeaning 1b for

"responsibility" as constructed with "of," citing Dickens in Old Cur. Shop

and Wilkie Collins in Black Robe. (Submeaning 1c, constructed with "for,"

gives a first cite from Shaw in Man & Superman....)

"Responsibility of": Survival or solecism? The lady or the tiger....

Now if they write "responsability" (aargh, and not given as an orthographoic

variant in OED), that's a hearse of a different color....

Greg Downing/NYU, at greg.downing[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] or downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]

Confusion of "of", "for," and ""from" is a very common error among insecure

writers. I think a behavioral explanation works in this case. It's very

easy to transpose letters in writing or typing (I do it all the time). If

a person means to write "for," but inadvertantly transposes the "o" and the

"f," spelling habits will likely cause the writer to stop and go on to the

next word. I admit I have no reliable evidence for this conjecture, but 27

years of teaching freshman composition [They made me do it or they wouldn't

let me teach linguistics] gives certain insights into the mechanical nature

of handwriting and typing habits. A spelling checker would not catch the

error, a grammar checker takes too long, and it's very easy to read what

you thought you wrote instead of what you actually wrote when you hastily

check your writing. While ignorance is pretty much in evidence in college

writing, scribal error is frequently the simplest explanation.