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One says that something is "off the mark". For instance, an opinion or comment. But when it is way off, why is it "wide of the mark" instead of "wide off the mark"?

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

"Wide of the mark" is an established phrase, using a meaning of "wide" that is rare today — notably still used in cricket, where a "wide" is a ball that was bowled outside the permitted target area (the wicket).

"Off the mark" is also established phrase.

"Wide off the mark" is not natural, because the relevant sense of "wide" is now used only absolutely ("went wide") or construed with "of". OED lists only "from" as an alternative, and marks it obsolete. I think it would be taken as an error for "wide of the mark". "Far off the mark" is more natural, but I don't recognise it as an established phrase.

[Edited to correct two points challenged in the comments: that "Off the mark" is an established phrase, and that the sense of "wide" is in wider(!) use than I said, though still restricted.]

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For what it is worth, my Midwestern upbringing fully grasps "off the mark" without thinking about it. The typical usage would be "That was way off the mark." A similar phrasing: "This is way off base." Your milage may vary. –  MrHen May 16 '11 at 18:56
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For what it's worth, that meaning of wide (off to side of a certain intended spot) is not particularly rare in the US. –  Kosmonaut May 17 '11 at 1:00
    
In sports particularly, a missed soccer shot or field goal attempt is often described as having gone "wide left" or "wide right". (but not "wide high".) –  Hellion May 17 '11 at 2:35
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"Wide off the mark" is incorrect and I would say that is because wide doesn't tell you about distance (like "far" does), it tells you about size. After all, you can't say "big off the mark" either, can you?

When you say "wide of the mark" you are using "wide" to mean not "of a great size from side-to-side" but "to the side of". Incidentally I don't think you should take it to mean that it is far off target: even a near-miss is wide of the mark, so the sense is not quite the same as "far off the mark".

"Wide of" is used quite frequently in this way: for instance, footballers are forever hitting shots wide of the goal. (That's round-ball football by the way, not the American sort...) There is also the specific cricket-specific sense of "wide" which Colin Fine has mentioned, which seems to have the same sense of "to the side", but in that context has even got to the point where you can talk about "a wide", making it into a noun.

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I can accept that explanation in the use of the word wide. Thanks, AAT. –  Raju Varghese May 19 '11 at 10:04
    
No problem! All part of the service. –  AAT May 19 '11 at 10:35
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here's one possible explanation

They both work. I think "of" is more common. It's like "clear of the mark."

"Off" would be more like "far off the mark."

Grammatically, I think "wide of the mark" is adverbial, as in "I placed it west of the mark."

"Wide" answers the question "where," and the prepositional phrase "of the mark" modifies "wide."

With "wide off the mark," I think the prepositional phrase answers the question "where," and "wide" is adjectival, modifying the prepositional phrase.

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Thanks, pageman. If "far off the mark" would be correct, I fail to see why "wide off the mark" is different. One can say "way off the mark" and not "way of the mark". Why is wide any different? Maybe , my brain just cannot click to the "<adjective> of the mark" as being correct. I do know that "wide of the mark" is the correct accepted usage but just cannot understand why that is so. –  Raju Varghese May 16 '11 at 8:07
    
@Raju English is like that - probably the same way that the opposite of "stand down" IS NOT "stand up" :) –  Paul Amerigo Pajo May 16 '11 at 8:38
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@pageman: There are corners of the English language where logic holds no sway. Accepted. This, I would have thought, could be explained by an existing grammar rule. But, if it doesn't, that would explain why people (me included) trip on it. Thanks! –  Raju Varghese May 16 '11 at 9:52
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@Raju -- see my answer - are you still unclear about why "far off the mark" can be right while "wide off the mark" isn't? I think this is actually quite logical. –  AAT May 16 '11 at 21:09
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@pageman: it does become easier with increased usage but that does not mean that it is correct. It becomes correct after sufficient time has passed and the old form that was once deemed correct is no longer there with a wagging finger. There are several things that our teachers that used to warn us about that have become common. I find it hard to use, though; I have the mental picture of my teacher with arms akimbo waiting for me to make that mistake. Old habits die hard, I guess. –  Raju Varghese May 19 '11 at 10:11
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