of (prep.) [⇐] Old English of, unstressed form of æf (prep., adv.) "away, away from,"
from Proto-Germanic *af, [...], from PIE *apo- "off, away" (see apo-). Primary sense in Old English still was "away," but shifted in Middle English with use of the word to translate Latin de, ex, and especially Old French de, which had come to be the substitute for the genitive case.

After my long tiresome enervated search, Google discovered a book that addresses my question briefly: pp 209-212, 235-236 of The Semantics of English Prepositions; Spatial Scenes, Embodied Meaning, and Cognition (Reprint ed, 2007) by Andrea Tyler, Vyvyan Evans. It quotes the OED's etymology of of that confirms the above etymons' influence on the Semantic Field of of.

But how did 'off, away, away from' change semantically into the more figurative meanings? I ask about the big picture and semantic field of of just like how this explanation explains the underlying meaning of ‘tally’.

  • 1
    Re your query about VII, I realise that we can also say "made from" and "made out of". Both of which use the same idea of separation. Perhaps it's something to do with giving birth. :-)
    – Margana
    Jul 3, 2015 at 7:46

2 Answers 2


It shifted in the Middle English period, with use of the word to translate Latin de, ex, and in particular Old French de.

"But please help me to bridge the bold with the more figurative meanings below." For me, it's difficult to understand your question, Le P.

The word used to mean "off". In the Middle English period, people started to use it to translate "de" - and that usage has stuck.

Regarding say your point "VII" above. Imagine you have say a block of butter, one kg. You cut some "off" it, a chunk. It's natural to me that the new piece of butter came "off" the large piece. (Indeed, sometimes you'd say "this piece is off that piece".)

{So, "if A is made from B, then A contains B..." In a way, I don't even know what "made from" means .. if something is say titanium (eg the case of your laptop, etc), it came off of a larger piece of titanium.}

Is this more a question for http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/6673/linguistics ?

  • Thanks. I'm happy to edit my OP, but what caused this: For me, it's difficult to understand your question, Le P.? I'll then try to improve.
    – user50720
    Jul 3, 2015 at 15:37

English of and off are related with Latin ab, which had the basic meaning movement from a point, origin. Already in Latin this preposition was flexible, referring to place and to time. It was also used as prep for the passive agent (idea: action coming from + person). In English of enlarged its uses, it was used as sign of genitive comparable to German von: das Haus von meinem Vater - the house of my father.

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