The words and phrases of an economic downturn fill our newspaper and Web site these days. One such phrase prompted a reader to write that we were "butchering" the language. The offending sentence was in a report of possible job losses in state government. The sentence that stoked the reader's ire was "Microsoft is letting go of 5,000 employees."
The reader was offended by the "of." We should have written, the reader said, "Microsoft is letting go 5,000 employees." Indeed, the idiom for firing people is to let go. Most of the time we hear it in passive voice: The butler was let go after he was caught nipping the master's sherry. But we also hear the active voice version: The master let go the entire staff because he could no longer pay for help.
But, as I looked for instances of let go used in connection with layoffs, I found several recent headlines that used "lets go of." I wonder if usage is squishy on this.
Of course, let go of has another idiomatic meaning: to release. We let go of the bike when we are teaching our children to ride. We let go of a balloon to watch it float into the sky. We let go of our old hurts once we attain distance and perspective.
We also let ourselves go when we just don't care about how we look. In a crowd, we might let go a laugh or a cheer. We often just let it go when we encounter a discourteous person in public and decide not to return the rudeness.
When it comes to an extra "of" in an idiom, sometimes you just have to let it go.