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  • When a survey asks people about a usage’s “acceptability” without allowing for different registers, it foregrounds (and maybe implicitly privileges) formal standard English and leaves no room for non-standard variation. “Appropriateness” might be a more constructive criterion for a survey to explore.
    Usage manuals note that would of, could of, etc. are used in writing to convey dialect or lack of education (“an unlettered persona”, as MWDEU puts it). Since I started looking out for the usage I’ve seen would of & co. in a lot of books from a wide range of authors, including Sylvia Plath, Patrick O’Brian, Dashiell Hammett and Carson McCullers. I disliked it at first, but I’ve gotten more used to it.

  • Stan: Thanks. So when these authors put ‘would of’, ‘could of’ etc. into their characters’ mouths, they aren’t necessarily saying “This character uses the strong form of ‘of’ in these constructions”; they’re saying, rather, “This character is uneducated, or a ‘dialect’ speaker.”
    If so, it’s rather like the use of the spelling ‘wot’ for ‘what’ in comic strip speech bubbles. I can’t see how ‘wot’ can represent a different pronunciation from ‘what’, so presumably it’s just intended to contribute to the characterisation of the speaker as uneducated, unsophisticated, etc.

  • Jonathan: Right. Probably in some cases it’s an attempt at authentic ‘eye dialect’, but in others it could be just a shorthand device for indicating a certain characteristic. There’s no way to know for sure what they intend by it, short of asking them.

  • “Woz” for was is an analogous example that’s independent of the wine/whine merger (which, incidentally, my dialect doesn’t have).

  • It is, or any phonetic referent is obscure (to me at least). Sorry for the mistaken assumption about your dialect – I don’t see how I leapt to that conclusion from your comment, but evidently I did.