In the following paragraph from the book "Zero to One":

The bureaucracy lurches ever sideways of its own inertia no matter what actions elected officials take.

What is the meaning of the phrase in bold? I looked for its individual words meanings, but I couldn't understand the whole meaning of it.


2 Answers 2


It is writing about the DMV, the government agency that issues driving licences in the USA. The experience that many people have of the DMV is that it is slow, and inefficient. The author is making the point that the democratic control that we should have over the DMV doesn't seem to work.

Now to consider the phrase - it is using metaphor. "Lurch" means to move in an uncontrolled manner. "Sideways" suggests it is not making progress. "of its own inertia": Inertia is the tendency of things to maintain speed and direction, unless forced to change. The word "of" here indicates a "cause or origin": compare "he died of cancer" (cancer was the cause of his death) with "it lurches sideways of its own inertia" (its own inertia is the cause of it lurching sideways)

So the DMV doesn't make progress (in customer service) Instead the same failed ideas get recycled. Reforms don't result in improvements as there is no effective oversight or control.

It's pretty critical of the agency: I don't know how accurate this is (since the system is different in the UK)

  • Thank you, but what does "of" in the sentence exactly mean?
    – ammar
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 21:49
  • Let's just say that the DMV is the only place in America busy enough that on a Friday afternoon when nobody wants to be doing anything but going home you can still wait three hours for your turn, and yet they're still not even open on Mondays, let alone weekends. And when you finally get to the front of the line, you might just get the unique opportunity to pay with one of the checks you have had sitting in a drawer at home for five years because nobody else even takes checks.
    – cjl750
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 22:23
  • 1
    Personally I would write "under its own inertia" rather than "of its own inertia". As a native English speaker I understand what they are trying to convey, but it is awkward phraseology.
    – bikeman868
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 3:27
  • Each state in the US runs its own DMV, and the hours of operation vary. Where I live, some of the larger offices are open Monday through Saturday.
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 10:11
  • @ammarx You should make sure that your question is complete. If you wanted to ask about the preposition "of" you needed to include that in your question.
    – James K
    Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 15:47

The preposition of in "of its own inertia" is a way of attributing the lurching motion entirely to its own inertia. The object of of in this construction is identified as sole cause.


I did it of my own volition.

That is, I chose to do it. I was not coerced in any way. I am wholly responsible for the act.

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