The Language Perfectionist: Of Course This Point Is Important

The expression of course looks innocent, but it can create problems.

Writers and speakers casually insert the phrase to indicate that something is obvious or self-evident. In most cases, it’s perfectly acceptable. But in others, it can sound insulting or patronizing.

The Penguin Dictionary of American English Usage and Style, by Paul W. Lovinger, has a good explanation of the trouble these two words can cause:

“A writer attaches an ‘of course’ to an obscure fact or arguable proposition, thereby implying to a number of readers that they are dolts for not knowing what the writer knows.”

Here are a few examples, found online, demonstrating how of course may presume too much or make unintended insinuations:

  • “Of course, we trust the wisdom of the bankruptcy court in supervising such a delicate endeavor.”
  • “Of course, the premier event of the racing year is Pimlico’s Preakness Stakes…”
  • “The Army is formally stating that of course combat is continuing in Iraq…”

Lovinger notes other common phrases that present similar risks of offense or condescension: as everyone knows, it goes without saying, for the simple reason that, and assorted variants.
So should you exercise care with this expression? Of course!

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]