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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.”

However, the phrase “bored of” is common now and some dictionaries have begun to treat it as standard English. Three dictionaries (Merriam-Webster, Cambridge, and include “bored of” without comment (that is, as standard) in their examples for the adjective “bored.”

In fact, Cambridge includes this separate “bored of” subentry in its entry for the adjective: “bored of   She was getting bored of listening to the same thing every day.”

Nevertheless, two other standard dictionaries, the Oxford Dictionary of English and the New Oxford American Dictionary, have identical usage notes that suggest “bored of” isn’t quite standard yet: 

“The traditional constructions for bored are bored by or bored with. The construction bored of emerged more recently, and is extremely common, especially in informal language. Although it is perfectly logical by analogy with constructions such as tired of, it is not fully accepted in standard English.”

The phrases “bored with” and “bored by” are still more popular, but “bored of” is a close third, according to a search with Google’s Ngram Viewer, which tracks words and phrases in digitized books.

The verb “bore,” the noun “bore,” and the adjective “bored” used in the tedious sense 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 1774 by the first Lord Malmesbury.

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

The earliest example we’ve seen for “bored of,” the latecomer, is from a theater review in a Canadian newspaper:

“She has known nothing but extravagance, knows nothing of the value of money, and yet she admits to her household and the sycophantic smart set who surround her that she is ‘bored of it all’ ” (The Evening Record, Windsor, Ontario, Nov. 16, 1909).

Fowler’s Modern English Usage (4th ed.), edited by Jeremy Butterfield, says in its “bored” entry: “The normal constructions are with with or with by.” However, Fowler’s notes the use of “bored of,” in speech and online:

“A tendency has emerged in recent years, especially in non-standard English in Britain and abroad, to construe the verb with of, especially in conversation and on blogs, by analogy with tired of. The construction should be avoided in writing.”

Well, “bored of” may not be widely accepted as standard yet, but we suspect that it’s here to stay—in writing as well as in speech.

[Note: This post was updated on Feb. 13, 2024, and Nov. 14, 2013.]

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