Saturday, February 13, 2010


I was musing the other day about the PP (prepositional phrase) complement to "enamored". My intuition is that "enamored with" is more common in modern times, but that "enamored of" is the original and prescriptively "correct" usage. Checking with the OED more or less confirms this, though the original usage, unbeknownst to me, is "enamored (up)on". "Enamored of" was the next oldest usage, and "enamored with", though listed as a possibility, didn't have any examples.

Now to check modern frequency:
enamored upon: 833 ghits
enamored on: 6380 ghits
enamored of: 644,000 ghits
enamored with: 667,000 ghits

So it appears that my intuition was marginally correct, though with the inaccuracy of google results counting, there may be no significant difference between "of" and "with". More unexpected was the auto suggestion "enamored by", which gets 128,000 hits, less than the two recent usages, but far more than the original Middle English preposition. More surprising still is "enamored for", which gets a respectable 20,100 hits (though google enjoins me to correct it to "enamored of"). Many of these look to be merely a sequence, e.g., "names that mean enamored for girls", but there are some legitimate usages: "Armored and enamored for obama in DC". As a check I ran a couple other prepositions (under, from, beside) to see if in fact all are attested, but none of these three seemed to have any legitimate hits. So people using "enamored by" and "enamored for" seem to have that as the phrase.

What does it all mean? I don't know. But based on the auto suggestions from google, people are pretty unsure of which preposition to use, though "with" and "of" are by far the most frequent.

1 comment:

J. Goard said...

Enamored by is third place in COCA, and about the only other legitimate one:

395 enamored of
173 enamored with
22 enamored by
2 enamored about

I'm a big believer in the usage-based/connectionist view, according to which this kind of thing reflects frequency-sensitive analogical mechanisms. Like you, I prefer [enamored with SBY], and I think that's largely because what I'd be "substituting it for" is the extremely high-frequency construction [in love with SBY]. More technically, because of its high frequency and strong semantic association, the latter construction will tend to be highly activated when the former is used. This kind of thing (especially over many iterations among multiple language users) will affect the prepositions used with low-frequency verbs.

The main testable prediction is that variation should be sensitive to which high-frequency forms have the strongest similarity in a given context. Look at all four COCA tokens of [enamored by the N]:

(1)We're too migratory, always on the way to someplace else, enamored by the song of the open road.
(2)The elemental thrill of bowling, Thrip decided, came entirely from the kinetic joy of knocking things over and then getting to do it again. Everyone is enamored by the possibility of repeated perfect events.
(3)Enamored by the mission's success, in May 1857 Brigham Young led a company of 115 men, twenty-two women, and five boys to the Lemhi Mission.
(4)He's cordial and reserved; handsome and refined; and a bleeding-heart traditionalist enamored by the lore of golf history and the intricacies of course design.

All but the last are inticements to action. The high-frequency verbs you'd think of substituting tend to pretty straightforward passives with by: called by, moved by, motivated by, driven by. (4) is close to a cluster that vary between with and by: obsessed, fascinated.

But I've already gone too far with my casual perusal of a corpus search. As you can surely see, this is the kind of question that requires some kind of simulation.