Philip Larkin

If you’re a fan of The Big Bang Theory, you probably remember an episode when the gang plays a drinking game called “Never Have I Ever.”

Here’s how it works: Somebody makes a statement beginning with “Never Have I Ever….” If it’s something you’ve done, you take a shot of whatever beverage everyone is drinking. You can see a clip here: https://youtu.be/TspoW5yriH4

Let’s play! I’ll start: “Never Have I Ever used ‘that of’ in a sentence.’

Did you take a shot?

Sentences with “that of” are almost always clumsy, and I’ve come to hate that phrase. The “that of” construction is probably a residue of the discredited belief that language is supposed to be logical. (It’s not, in case anyone asks.)

Lately, alas, there seems to be a “that of” epidemic going around.

In fact I just came across a “that of” sentence, and the consequence is that I’m probably going to be cranky for the next 30 minutes. The sentence is about the poet Philip Larkin. Here it is:

Larkin’s day job was that of librarian at the University of Hull.

Gack.

What’s wrong with “Larkin’s day job was librarian at the University of Hull”? Or – better yet – “Larkin was a librarian at the University of Hull”?

Philip Larkin

       Philip Larkin

 

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