In an essay, a friend used the expression:
It wasn't that bad of an idea.
I think that it would be preferable to write
It wasn't that bad an idea
However, I can't explain why.
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Of as a preposition is also:
- used to indicate an appositive: that idiot of a driver.
- A noun, noun phrase, or series of nouns placed next to another word or phrase to identify or rename it.
OK, so the original sense is
It is not such a bad idea that
But the speaker wishes to omit
condition as it goes without saying.
He evidently still wishes to alluding to its existence, otherwise he could just say
It is not such a bad idea.
We evidently need that that that badly. But one cannot say
It is not that a bad idea [NO]
An article after that implies we are starting a relative clause like
It is not that a cat is a bad animal, but ...
So we need to push the article forward. It still must appear before its noun, and moving the noun anywhere else gets weird fast. So we are stuck with
It is not that bad an idea.
This article between the noun and so closely related a word sounds odd. (Note, not of a word, same issue.) So we look around for constructions that allow it, like.
He is a bull of a man.
I am not much of a typist.
These are not parallel formations. The first has two nouns, rather than a noun and an adjective and the other is not a direct modification, as I would never say
I am a much typist. [NO]
But the uncertainty makes people allow for, and forgive the padded construction, even though it is not strictly grammatical. And we end up with
It is not that bad of an idea. [barely OK]
I would call this a minor error, but still an error.
The majority agrees by a good margin: graph