unintentional of routes

Hinata Sama

Senior Member
Chinese
Hi, friends.
Please look at this passage.
Previously, her fellow pupils gave her inspiration only via the cruellest and most unintentional of routes.
By excluding her and bullying her, they sent Taylor into such pits of unhappiness.

Why is there an ' of ' ?
'unintentional' is an adjective, so why can't it be followed directly by a noun?

Source: Taylor Swift: The Whole Story, Chas Newkey-Burden, p. 47

http://www.scribd.com/doc/190441219/...r-Swift#scribd
 
Last edited:
  • Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    That's a very good question, Jackesly. It's a common construction, but not an easy one to explain, because as native speakers we tend to use it instinctively. But I see it like this ...

    The superlative form is sometimes used as a strong form of "very". For example, in "He is the wisest man" and "They're the most wonderful presents", the intended meaning may not be the literal sense of 'the greatest possible degree'.

    By adding "of" (implicitly "of all"), the extreme sense of the superlative is emphasised: "He is the wisest of men", "They're the most wonderful of presents" ... and "only via the cruellest and most unintentional of routes".

    Having said that, I don't think people consciously apply that logic every time they use it, and sometimes it's just used as an alternative to the form without "of". In your sentence, for instance, the "of" could be omitted without any significant change in meaning or emphasis.

    Ws
    :)
     

    Hinata Sama

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    That's a very good question, Jackesly. It's a common construction, but not an easy one to explain, because as native speakers we tend to use it instinctively. But I see it like this ...

    The superlative form is sometimes used as a strong form of "very". For example, in "He is the wisest man" and "They're the most wonderful presents", the intended meaning may not be the literal sense of 'the greatest possible degree'.

    By adding "of" (implicitly "of all"), the extreme sense of the superlative is emphasised: "He is the wisest of men", "They're the most wonderful of presents" ... and "only via the cruellest and most unintentional of routes".

    Having said that, I don't think people consciously apply that logic every time they use it, and sometimes it's just used as an alternative to the form without "of". In your sentence, for instance, the "of" could be omitted without any significant change in meaning or emphasis.

    Ws
    :)

    Thank you very much, now I understand.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm interested in Wordsmyth's answer because my reaction is slightly different.

    I sense not so much an emphasising of the superlative by that 'of', but a softening of it.

    I remember someone's calling the Creuse "the most beautiful river in the world" - I immediately wondered if he had looked at all the others.

    Had he said that the Creuse was "the most beautiful of rivers", I wouldn't have had that thought. I'd have taken it to mean that he found the Creuse an extremely beautiful river.

    Previously, her fellow pupils gave her inspiration only via the cruellest and most unintentional route is the proposed alternative here. I'd find that too obviously an absolute.

    People do use superlatives loosely. I think adding the 'of' in this way is a manner of trying to escape the discipline of the absolute, and turns the meaning towards 'very' or 'extremely', and away from 'the most'.

    'Unintentional' is indeed an adjective, but 'the most unintentional' can be treated as a noun, as in this case.
     
    Last edited:

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    I can see what you mean in your 'Creuse' example, TT. Perhaps it depends on where you start from.

    - Compared with "the most beautiful river in the world", I also hear "the most beautiful of rivers" as softer than the absolute.

    - But starting from "the most beautiful river", I hear "the most beautiful of rivers" as potentially closer to the absolute. Though it might depend on context and, if spoken, on the way either of them is said.

    Without any other clues, I'd probably class these sentences in this ascending order of nearness to absolute (or of emphasis thereon):
    - The Creuse is the most beautiful river.
    - The Creuse is the most beautiful of rivers.
    - The Creuse is the most beautiful of all rivers.
    - The Creuse is the most beautiful river in the world.

    If someone said to me, "The Creuse is the most beautiful river, and the fishing is excellent", I'd find that "the most beautiful of rivers" would increase the superlative emphasis (as I suggested above).

    However, that might change if it were "I've fished in hundreds of places, and believe me, the Creuse is the most beautiful river". Then I'd probably take that as an absolute (the most beautiful of all the rivers I've fished in). In that case, "the most beautiful of rivers" would seem, as you say, to move away from the absolute: it removes the implicit reference to just the rivers I've fished in, and sounds more like "a very beautiful river".

    Well, I did say it's not easy to explain!;) — and I don't think it's hard and fast, so it doesn't surprise me that different people may hear that "of" in different ways.

    [...] Previously, her fellow pupils gave her inspiration only via the cruellest and most unintentional route is the proposed alternative here. I'd find that too obviously an absolute. [...]
    In this context I'd take the likely alternative as "Previously, her fellow pupils gave her inspiration only via the cruellest and most unintentional routes", which I think reduces the impression of an absolute.
    [...] 'Unintentional' is indeed an adjective, but 'the most unintentional' can be treated as a noun, as in this case.
    I might agree in a sentence such as "There are many routes to inspiration, and theirs was the most unintentional"; but when "the most unintentional" immediately precedes "route", I see that as a purely adjectival role.

    As I said to Jackesly, it was a very good question, but apparently not one with an easy answer!

    Ws
    :)

     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    [...]I might agree in a sentence such as "There are many routes to inspiration, and theirs was the most unintentional"; but when "the most unintentional" immediately precedes "route", I see that as a purely adjectival role.
    Of course it's purely adjectival in that case - the most unintentional route.

    Note I said 'Unintentional' is indeed an adjective, but 'the most unintentional' can be treated as a noun, as in this case (in the post (#4) you cited, Wordsmyth).

    This case was referring to the OP
    previously, her fellow pupils gave her inspiration only via the cruellest and most unintentional of routes.
    I think my comment, though true, was a rather ham-fisted attempt to answer the issue raised at the end of the OP, which I didn't feel either of us had answered:
    Why is there an ' of ' ?
    'unintentional' is an adjective, so why can't it be followed directly by a noun?
    Of course, as we have both answered implicitly now:

    1. Unintentional is an adjective, but the superlative, the most unintentional, can be a noun, and when it is, we need the of, or something else to indicate the set from which our example is the most unintentional.
    2. The superlative can also be adjectival, in which case we suppress the of, or whatever, so it can be followed directly by a noun.
    3. We, therefore, have a choice, and we've quite fully examined the basis for that choice, I'd say.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Hi, friends.
    Please look at this passage.
    Previously, her fellow pupils gave her inspiration only via the cruellest and .
    By excluding her and bullying her, they sent Taylor into such pits of unhappiness.

    Why is there an ' of ' ?
    If we substitute methods for routes, and via for by, then it becomes a little clearer:

    by the cruellest and most unintentional of methods. = by the cruellest and most unintentional of all methods.

    There are many methods, but the methods that were chosen were those of (i.e. belonging to) the [group of] methods that were the "cruellest and most unintentional" of all methods.

    There is no reason why you cannot convey a similar meaning with "by the cruellest and most unintentional methods" but this does not give the nuance that the methods were deliberately chosen.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    [...] There is no reason why you cannot convey a similar meaning with "by the cruellest and most unintentional methods" but this does not give the nuance that the methods were deliberately chosen.
    Do you think that "by the cruellest and most unintentional of methods" really gives a nuance of being deliberately chosen, Paul? Try as I will, I can't see that.

    Compare with, say, "They were the strangest people" and "They were the strangest of people". I don't see how the "of" could suggest a deliberate choice, or a deliberate anything.:confused:

    Besides, in Jackesly's "her fellow pupils gave her inspiration only via the cruellest and most unintentional of routes", I'd say that "unintentional" suggests that they were not deliberately chosen; if they had been, surely they would have been intentional...?

    Or maybe I'm missing something.

    Ws:)

     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top