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This is from a BBC video Tiny piece of US (see:1:50-1:55)

"But what of all this business about it being America?"

This sentence structure sounds confusing to me. I have thought that it may be a modified version of the common question structure (what is it all about?), which is used when people try to understand something deeply that they can't quite understand completely?

But then "what of....." does not seem to fit in that structure. So, this must be something different.

What is the structure of this question really? Can we break it down into pieces to understand it in a much clear way?

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    You've misquoted it. It should be "But what of all this business about it being America?". To be honest, I think the sentence is a little clumsy/awkward. It might have been better to say "But what about all this business of it being [part of] America?". Basically he is asking a rhetorical question: why is this part of England considered American territory?
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 14, 2023 at 9:17
  • @BillyKerr, Thanks Billy. I corrected it.
    – Yunus
    Jun 14, 2023 at 9:25
  • still wrong. The first word is "But".
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 14, 2023 at 9:29
  • Are you asking about why it uses "what of X" instead of "what about X"? This is a less common preposition, and to me sounds old-fashioned, but it's sometimes used.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 14, 2023 at 9:47
  • @StuartF, I am asking about whether this is a special structure, because it reminds me of "What is it all about?" but it does not fit into this structure, because "what is it all about" does not have a "what of..." inside it. So, this must be something different, but I am not sure.
    – Yunus
    Jun 14, 2023 at 14:09

2 Answers 2

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The quote is

But what of all this business about it being America?

I feel your pain here, because I think the wording is a little awkward/clumsy. It's not wrong or anything, but it could have been worded better IMHO. Essentially it means the same as:

But what is all this business about it being [part of] America?

or alternatively

But what about all this business of it being [part of] America?

This is basically a rhetorical question, which asks about why this part of England is considered part of American territory. He then goes on to explain the details.

As far as "What of [something]" is concerned, it's a way to ask "What about [something]". I have to say it is a little old-fashioned however, and not as common these days. You are more likely to find it written in an old book.

An example

And what of his wife all this time? What of her? If you had marked her thin white cheeks, her peaked, quivering chin, her hollow eyes with the black rings about them, and the silvery hairs that began to glisten in her dark curls, you would have said, what of her?

Source: The Ladies' Repository, published by A. Tomkins (1860)

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There's two parts to this, "what of", and "this business about".

"What of...?" is simply a chiefly British way of saying "What's with...?", an expression that marks its object as something unusual and asks for an explanation.

In "this business about", "business" is defined by Merriam-Webster:

3 : affair, matter
the whole business got out of hand

It means something that happened or that has been said.

So, your original sentence means something like, "What's with people saying that it's America?", meaning, why do people say that this part of the UK in fact belongs to America?

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