Of all the of’s used as “of [insert noun/verb]” , “of course” is the most common of all. It is obvious. And it is so obvious because it is obvious. If we take a look back at our personal history of learning the English language, most of us would have learned to use this phrase to mean “obvious” without even knowing the word “obvious”. But, if we separate the preposition from the noun/verb, the meaning is not so obvious anymore. Sure we say “ ‘course” all the time. That is, we eliminate the preposition, say only the verb but, say it in such a way so that this “course” remains different from any other courses we might take. And “course” does not mean “obvious” at all. But, I’m not going be as unimaginative as to consult the Oxford dictionary and find out the meaning and etymology of the word “course”. The easiest (and most boring)way to start an essay is to quote meanings of keywords of the topic from a dictionary. (I must admit that though I wholly criticize this method of getting over the most difficult step of essay writing –to start – I half like it too. It’s just so convenient for the reader as well.) This series of essays is inspired by the ones by Francis Bacon, and he never had a dictionary to help him start his essays. Also, I’ve decided to go a bit further “off course” and not even research for this essay. I will conduct an experiment in divergent thinking. I will imagine that “of course” is like a red-brick( an actual test, popular with psychologists) and my job with this essay is to trust my own faculties and come up with as many coherent thoughts on it as possible.
Here are the words/ideas that come to my mind as I think of possible meanings of the word “course”:
a French heart
Perhaps the last word association might come as a surprise to you. You must literally pardon my French when I say that I took basic lessons a year and a half ago and have forgotten most of it. But “course” looks dangerously close to “coeurs” which is French for “heart”. Also, the ending “-se” , or for that matter the beginning “cour” just all looks very French to me. However, nowhere in the English-speaking world(except possibly the French and the Francophil) would it be pronounced even close a French way, though it might look it. The Americans tend to stress their r’s (which the French I’m sure would like) and I rather find that pronunciation delectable. The English, on the other hand, tend to drop the ” r ” altogether. The stress is both on the beginning and the end of the word, (a “Koh” and an “Esss”) which the Americans retain as well and conjunct with their well-pronounced r (Koh + rrr +esss).
So, supposing the word is rooted in French, does “of course” (which is really what we are concerned here rather than just “course”) have something to do with the heart? Has stating the obvious got some root connection with stating something that comes from the heart? Is “of course” the same as “de coeurs”? Is the obvious instinctual, and are instincts embedded in the heart? Would “following your heart” entail doing what is “of course”?
I must admit something. I am one of those annoying people who say “of course” all the time. I also say “as simple as that” a lot which, though not as common, is even more irritating to me. But, the most annoying oft-repeated phrase for me would be the dreaded “you know”. It is like your psychological coping mechanisms and the English language conspire to cause you even more embarrassment. I used the “you know” to death at a recent job interview and I can assure you none of the many times I said it was on my own cognitive accord.
But, we go off course again. What I intended to point out through my own habit is whether or not our “of course” came to evolve from something that people, in conversation, sought to confirm by placing the affirmative stamp of their own instinct, which as we all know, was previously thought to reside in the organ called the heart, something that is still used as an expression today( such as the above mentioned “follow your heart”). Nowadays, it is more often said to reside in the gut (getting “gut feelings”) though I must again state that of course, as any neuroscientist would tell you what you already know, it’s all in the brain.
And now for the more obvious “of course”. A course denotes a length of time, of a physical entity, of something abstract, of anything really that constitutes itself in a, more or less, linear shape. The phrase “off course” would literally be its contradiction. If “of course” speaks of the whole of the course one is on, coming “off course” means literally to get off that main course. However, “off” is not to be taken as an antonym of “of”.
Which all leaves me with thinking how ignored our “of course” is. The utility of it, for it can mean an academic course, a course of medication, a race course, a physical or mental route we take in life. It can even give rise to “discourse”, that dangerous word that is a favourite with academics. The course taken to understand the manifold usages of “course” seems to be an endless one. And that proves that no matter how much we over-pepper our conversations and written correspondences with the “of course”, we couldn’t do without it.