March 3, 2008

"Based off"

Where did this horrible expression come from? I had never noticed it before, but a good half of the undergraduate papers my wife was recently grading included either "based off" or "based off of". Looking online I found this Boston Globe article from last month, which notes that while the earliest Nexis reference dates back to 1979, the surge in usage has taken place in just the past few years. Googling "based on" still produces far more hits than "based off", but the latter still is good for over four million citations at last count. I wasn't able to find all that much more on the expression, aside from this Metafilter thread which predictably sees commentors line up behind prescriptivist or descriptivist banners. Seems rather pointless, that: for the self-proclaimed descriptivists, it seems to be all or nothing -- either you embrace every linguistic mutation, or you must be an intolerant, reactionary, tide-commanding prescriptivist. I say forget the labels, embrace felicitous neologisms, and hold the line against outright mistakes -- "based off" emphatically included.

Posted by David on March 3, 2008 9:58 PM


It may be regional - I've *never* seen it in writing. On the other hand, I got two IM things in a paper yesterday.

Posted by: Michael Tinkler on March 4, 2008 1:06 AM

If only it were regional! Those students came from all over the USA, and Googling the expression yields hits all over the Web.

Posted by: David on March 4, 2008 8:39 AM

"Based around" has been spotted in, gasp!, journalism. I suppose it's proof positive that the metaphor in question is dead.

Posted by: dearieme on March 4, 2008 9:15 AM

"Based on" is based on the frozen analogy of one object standing on another, e.g., "the vase is based on the table." The analogy is to one idea based on another, e.g., his conclusion was based on his reading of Homer." "Based off" makes no sense in this analogy.

Posted by: Anonymous on December 17, 2008 9:19 AM

haha Im a undergraduate in Australia and I use based off of, thanks I will start using based on instead

Posted by: bob on May 16, 2009 7:33 PM

Bob, you might also want to consider using punctuation.

Posted by: Lisi on June 28, 2009 2:43 AM

Thanks for correcting me.

Posted by: RC on July 1, 2009 1:47 PM

Grading paper after paper... "based off" ... ahgahgahhgahhag! And no matter how many times I point it out, students revert to it. 'That durn internet1' (It is so nice to find compatriots in frustration... thank you.)

Posted by: David on November 30, 2009 5:51 AM

Thanks a lot for this article of yours!
I'm a translator in Japan, and I've just run into the phrase "based off" and "based off of". Totally puzzled and having Googled, I've found this article.

It helps a lot.

Posted by: baldhatter on March 7, 2010 11:18 AM

I am an undergraduate student writing a paper right now! I started to write "based off" and thought it sounded very informal and grammatically wrong, so I googled it to look for alternatives (and stumbled upon your blog). Ironic, kind of.
I'm assuming that you meant "based on" was the better alternative, so I'm going to use that.

Posted by: Jessica on March 11, 2010 4:42 PM

David, I'm so glad you posted this! I've been teaching at the college level for 8 years (in 3 different states in the U.S.) and only in the past year have I seen this abomination "based off of" in students' papers! I made such a big deal about it in my philosophy class last semester that it became a joke with my students. It is such poor English! After all, you must base something ON something else, right?!

Posted by: Liz on April 14, 2010 4:05 PM

Thanks for the post and especially for the comment about the etiology of "based on". Now I understand why to use one over the other!

Posted by: kir on July 9, 2010 4:14 PM

I have heard it spoken only in the past year, usually by younger people. It is very annoying and makes no sense. My theory is that it is a "Freudian slip" admission by the speaker indicating that the thing they profess to be "basing on" is, in reality, unreliable and not completely credible, even to themselves.

When you hear it, you BS radar should start flashing.

Posted by: dave on January 12, 2011 5:09 PM

You've got to remember that Language as a whole exists for the sake of communication. Does it "make sense" to call a yellow, elongated peel enclosed fruit a banana? Not really. There's nothing about it that is fundamentally banana-ish about it, the sound only has meaning that we collectively assign it; thus, language is what we commonly understand.

I want to hear you explain logically why the phrase "on Wednesday" makes any sense at all. Why not "in Wednesday" or "during Wednesday?"

The English language has changed immensely in the millenium or so in which it's been spoken. Why do youngsters nowadays leave off grammatical endings of demonstratives? English used to be a language requiring complex endings such as "se cyning," meaning, "the king," "thaes cyninges" = "of the king," and "thaem cyninge" = "to the king."

My point in this demonstration is to show that what we consider "correct English" would be incomprehensible to our forebearers, and will yet be incomprehensible to our descendants.

Perhaps one day the phrase "based off of" will become the standard. In the mind of those who use it, this is correct as one idea receives its base or foundation, from off of something else. Perhaps not, perhaps this usage will reamain nonstandard and will slowly slip into the shadows along with words like "tubular" "far out" and the like.

If you would like more information on (or is it about?) the dynamic, ever-changing properties of English, please visit the following link:

The English Language's ability to adapt and change to suit the speakers' needs is what makes it so powerful. Note for example, French, once the powerful tongue of a colonial international trade giant. Now, dwindeling in the shadows despite the efforts of the French Academy in Paris. I could talk about this all day. The English language will continue to adapt to changing culture and thought. Don't fight it. You'll one day find yourself like the people who tried to get us to stop using "you" to refer to one person. Is it illogical to use a plural pronoun to refer to a singular antecedent? Possibly. Why not use "Thou" and eliminate the need for "y'all?" Who knows, but the people have spoken, and angsty "standard English elitists" can do nothing about it.

Posted by: Patrick on February 4, 2011 4:10 PM

And yet, Patrick, sometimes you must draw the line. This is not to prevent the evolution of language; it is to guide it towards making more rather than less sense. I'm forbidding "based off of" in my classes, and taking points off whenever I see it. They may say it if they choose, but enough is enough.

Posted by: Shawn on March 29, 2011 1:19 PM

Patrick, that's a poor argument. We're not talking about choosing afresh between two arbitrary ways of saying something; we're refusing to accept the use of ALREADY DEFINED antonyms as synonyms!

"The English Language's ability to adapt and change to suit the speakers' needs is what makes it so powerful."

That is just plain stupid. How could anyone ever need to say "based off of" instead of based on"?

Posted by: Mark Steirer on August 23, 2011 10:20 PM

Patrick, it's not "just plain stupid." I substitute high school and hear it all the time. And my own two intelligent teenagers say it. It drives me crazy. It's incorrect and meaningless. But I know these kids aren't stupid. So where did they get it? Must be pop culture...?

Posted by: Mal Mac on October 5, 2011 11:11 PM
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