English English language Etymology Grammar Linguistics Usage Word origin

Is “offshore of” off-putting?

Q: Several times recently I’ve come across the usage “offshore of” in copy I’m editing. It sounds dead wrong to my ears, but I’m having difficulty explaining why to my client. Can you clarify?

A: You’re right in thinking that the “of” is unnecessary in a phrase like “offshore of Cuba.”

But we don’t think this redundancy is a hanging offense, since the use of “offshore” as a preposition is relatively new, and many people seem to be uncomfortable with it.

When “offshore” is used as a preposition, it means “off the shore or coast of,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. So the “of” is already built in.

As we’ve written before on our blog, “offshore” has been used as both an adverb and an adjective since the great seafaring days of the 18th century.

The use of the word as a preposition, however, dates from only the 1960s, according to published examples in the OED.

Here are Oxford’s citations, and note that “offshore” is not accompanied by “of” in any of them.

1967: “Atlantic refining and Phillips Petroleum have announced the first discovery of natural gas in the Gulf of Sirte offshore Libya.” (From the journal Ocean Industry.)

1988: This year’s Fireball Nationals … were held offshore Durban over Easter.” (From a South African journal, Sailing Inland & Offshore.)

1995: A ground ice ridge or stamukha off-shore Sakhalin Island.” (From the Lamp, a magazine for Exxon shareholders.)

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) says the first known use of the preposition is from 1965, but it doesn’t give the source. M-W similarly defines the preposition “offshore” as meaning “off the shore of.”

Although “of” is unnecessary with the preposition “offshore,” many people prefer to tack it on anyway.

A Google search turned up hundreds of thousands of such usages—“offshore of San Diego,” “offshore of Nome,” “offshore of Captiva Island,” “offshore of Plymouth, MA.,” “offshore of the Bahamas,” and so on.

This isn’t surprising. To many ears, the use of “offshore” as a freestanding preposition— “The plane crashed offshore Nantucket”—may seem uncomfortably abrupt.

English speakers are more used to a construction like “off the coast of Nantucket” or “off the shore of Nantucket.”

Perhaps that’s why “offshore of Nantucket” feels more natural to many speakers.

Update [May 22, 2013]: After we posted this entry, the linguist and lexicographer Ben Zimmer reported several earlier uses of “offshore” as a preposition, including one that beats the OED and Merriam-Webster’s sightings by a decade.

Writing on the American Dialect Society’s discussion list, Zimmer reported this finding, from the December 1955 issue of Gas Age:   “… the company has filed an application with the FPC for a certificate of necessity to build a submarine gas pipe line offshore the Coast of Louisiana from the Sabine River to the coast of  the state of Mississippi.”

Then another contributor to the ADS list, Garson O’Toole, unearthed this World War II usage from a June 1942 issue of the State Times in Baton Rouge, La: “Lt. (j. g.) Robert Connel Taylor son of Mr. and Mrs. D. H. Taylor of this city, is recuperating at the naval hospital at Pearl Harbor from wounds received during the bombing of Midway preceding the great air-naval battle offshore the island, a letter received by his parents today disclosed.”

Thanks, Ben and Garson!

Check out our books about the English language