Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hard of Hearing

From Joe Popa: I’m wondering about the combination “hard of hearing.” It would sound more natural as “it’s hard for him to hear,” wouldn’t it? The use of the preposition of is confusing.

The “hard of” combination goes back some 700 years, although hard of hearing is one of the last phrases to retain it in our day. Originally, hard meant having difficulty doing something. Before hard of hearing came onto the scene in the 16th century, earlier phrases included hard of understand and hard of belief. By the 17th century, the preposition to had replaced of in such phrases (hard to understand, hard to believe).

Of is often used as a connector in a phrase. We have no problem with strength of character, conflict of interest, or a chunk of time, for instance.

I covered a related question in my book Words to the Wise, p. 75:

Q. We frequently use the phrase hard of hearing, so why isn't there a hard of seeing?

A. You're not going to believe this, but there is a hard of seeing. Here's a quote from New York State Services for the Blind: "Sometimes people refer to low vision as being 'hard of seeing' or a little bit blind.”

Stranger yet, here's some dialogue from the Smelly Car episode of Seinfeld:
Jerry: "Do you smell something?"
Elaine: "Do I smell something? What am I, hard of smelling?"Link
And to top things off, a quote from the Times Picayunne: "Sometimes, there's just too much of a good thing, especially when flavors are boosted to levels that seem pitched to the hard-of-tasting."

Examples of hard of touching elude me. Any evidence out there?

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