Grammar Pet Peeves: “Based off” is off base
by Steve Bein
I want to talk about the basics of bases. I also want to propose that as a culture, we should all band together and start throwing batteries at people who say “based off” when they mean “based on.”
It is true that there are grammatical sentences in which you can correctly use the words “based off of” in that order, but they are rare and convoluted. Here is one example: “Last night I consumed my own bodyweight in black tar heroin, which I free-based off of my grandmother’s heirloom silver soup ladle.” Grandma and the DEA might not be too happy with me, but they can’t say I use my heroin ungrammatically.
Suppose they catch me dead to rights with the smack-encrusted ladle. I spend my time in prison writing a steamy novel called Fifty Conjugal Visits of Grey, and it’s so damn good that Hollywood makes it into a movie. You might be one of those people who would say the movie is based off of the book. But you’d be wrong. (And if someone then pelted you with a battery, you’d change your evil ways.)
Here’s a very short exercise I sometimes give to my students: first, draw a picture of some structure—a tent, a house, the Eiffel Tower, whatever. Now suppose this structure has a base, and draw that base. Now look at your picture and tell me this: is your structure sitting on your base?
If yes, then your picture matches 100% of the pictures my students have drawn. The thingy, whatever you drew, is on its base. No one ever draws the base next to the thingy, or on top of it, or far away from it. Everyone knows that bases are, well, at the base of things.
This is why you say “the movie is based on the book,” not “the movie is based off the book.” The book is (duh) the base on which the movie is (duh) based.
Now if the movie is nothing like the book, you could be perfectly justified in saying it’s way off base. The book gave it a perfectly sound base to rest on, but the movie missed. Calling it off base is a baseball reference, by the way, not a structural one (though as it happens, the baseball term is based on—not off—the structural term).
So if you happen to know anyone who writes the autocorrect dictionary for word-processing software, please tell them they need to include a new addition: automatically replace “based off” with “based on,” and then leave it to the rest of us to change it back if we happen to find new and creative uses for our grandparents’ nice silverware.
Steve Bein (pronounced “Bine”) is a philosopher, photographer, traveler, translator, climber, diver, and award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Interzone, Writers of the Future, and in international translation. Daughter of the Sword, his first novel, was met with critical acclaim.
His webpage can be found at: http://www.philosofiction.com/
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