English English language Etymology Grammar Usage Word origin

We hope you’re not bored

Q: At the risk of being thought priggish, but prompted by your discussion of the proper prepositions for use with “squeamish,” what are your thoughts on the current popularity of the phrase “bored of”? Example: “I’m bored of this—let’s change the channel.”

A: When a preposition follows “bored,” it has traditionally been “with” or “by.” So the traditional construction would be “I’m bored with this” or “I’m bored by this.”

In standard usage, we generally haven’t been bored “of” or “over” or “about” or “from” something.

However, the phrase “bored of” has become very common lately, and it may very well be considered standard one of these days. In fact, “bored from” is seen a lot too, and it may also be accepted as standard at some point.

The Oxford Dictionaries Online says “bored of” is a more recent construction than “bored with” and “bored by,” but “it’s become extremely common.”

“In fact, the Oxford English Corpus contains almost twice as many instances of bored of than bored by,” Oxford  says. (The corpus is a database of written or spoken English.)

The Oxford website says the popularity of “bored of” represents “a perfectly logical development of the language, and was probably formed on the pattern of expressions such as tired of or weary of.”

“Nevertheless, some people dislike it and it’s not fully accepted in standard English. It’s best to avoid using it in formal writing,” Oxford adds.

Our Google searches have found that both “bored of” and “bored from” are extremely popular these days. Here’s the scorecard: “bored of,” 4.86 million hits; “bored with,” 4.26 million; “bored from,” 1.25 million, and “bored by,” 913,000.

The verb “bore,” the noun “bore,” and the adjective “bored” showed up in English in the 18th and 19th centuries, according to published references in the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED describes the etymologies of these three words as unknown.

John Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins says the noun (meaning tiresomeness) suddenly appeared “on the scene as a sort of buzzword of the 1760s, from no known source.”

Ayto adds that “the explanation most commonly offered for its origin” is that the word “bore” that refers to tedium is derived from the much older word “bore” that refers to making  a hole.

The newer word, according to this theory, refers to being pierced with ennui, an explanation that Ayto describes as “not terribly convincing.”

Getting  back to your question, here are a couple of 18th-century examples from the OED in which “bored” is used with  prepositions:

“I pity my Newmarket friends, who are to be bored by these Frenchmen,” from a letter written in 1768 by the Earl of Carlisle.

“I have bored you sadly with this catastrophe,” from a letter written in 1764 by the first Lord Malmesbury.

No prepositions other than “with” or “by” appear in any of the OED’s citations.

Fowler’s Modern English Usage (rev. 3rd ed.), in its entry for “bored,” says: “The normal constructions are with with or with by.” However, Fowler’s notes the usage that has caught your attention:

“A regrettable tendency has emerged in recent years, esp. in non-standard English in Britain and abroad, to construe the verb with of.”

Regrettable or not, “bored of” may be here to stay.

[Note: This post was updated on Nov. 14, 2013.]

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