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Tout ce qui est plus proche que 3 metres ou plus eloigne que 5 metres de vos yeux est flou.
It's possible that Randall Munroe originally wrote, or at least thought, "I can't get within 500 yards of you", and then changed "within 500 yards" to "closer than 500 yards" without changing the preposition. But it's also possible that this is one of the many points on which different speakers of English have different ideas.
After November 1, any resident of Talbot County may license a blind site no closer than 500 yards of the nearest licensed stationary blind or blind site.
It is illegal to approach closer than 500 yards of any right whale (See 50 CFR 224.103, Chapter 2).
Upon overtaking an horse-drawn vehicle running upon regular schedules, automobiles must not attempt to pass or to approach closer than 150 yards of the same.
Policy recommendations place a warning not to live any closer than 200 yards of transmission lines.
Jet skis are not permitted to operate any closer than 150 yards of the shoreline between May 15 and September 15. For years we have been taught to be conservative when approaching a gobbling bird, and never get closer than 150 yards of a bird's position.
So it seems entirely plausible that a restraining order would prohibit someone from coming closer than 500 yards of, rather than to, their ex. However, I'm clinging for now to the hypothesis that the people who write such prohibitions need the than-phrase to excuse the "of", and would never say "I want to get closer of you", or "New York is closer of me than Shanghai is". My feeling is that what's going on here is that "500 yards of you" is being treated as a set expression, complete in its own right, meaning "500 yards away from you".


My own reaction is that "of" and "to" are both a bit weird-sounding in these constructions; only "from" seems to work.
I think the comparison to WITHIN is a good one, because it is built, so to speak, to talk about ranges and locating objects in a sort of circle with the landmark as the center point.
I notice that now the incorrect French example has been corrected at the original location too. The mention of French prepositions reminds me of an old book my mother lent me when I was studying French in high school; it was named something like Est-ce c'est a ou de?. I was thinking about this… "from" gramatically goes with "500 yards" whereas "to" goes with "closer". The OED has "back of" cites from 1694 (almost all American), "in back of" cites from 1914 (Mark Twain). The OED has "in (the) front of" cites from 1698, at first with "the" or a possessive ("in his front" 'in front of him'); the first plain "in front of" cite is 1847 (but there's a figurative example from 1609).
Having lived a life relatively sheltered from contact with the more imperious practices of the legal profession, I never noticed this before. I don't imagine this same writer would ever under any circumstances write "closer of you" by itself. I'm not sure if I would say that "closer than to " sounds ungrammatical to me, but it does sound unnatural. Perhaps "closer than" somehow is reanalyzed or has semantics close enough to WITHIN such than the normal complementation pattern of WITHIN is taken up.
I'm from the rural Midwest (NW Ohio), and was stunned by what I perceived to be an ungrammatical notice in a Boston Green Line T trolley that said "Please stand back of white line." I would never, ever say "back of" in my own dialect and would assume someone was an L2 speaker of English who needed to review prepositions if they wrote it.


Strangely enough, I see this same construction on Chicago public transit buses, so perhaps it's narrower than the Midwest as a whole.
159, reports 70 years of condemning both "back of" and "in back of" 'behind', mostly labeling the first as colloquial and the second as "undesirable", "childish", "a vulgarism", "an illiteracy"; some characterize both as "wordy". Curiously, commentators have labeled both locutions Colloquial or Vulgar off and on for most of this century, although with no accuracy and little effect. Monroe have chosen to preclude the suggestion inherent in the figurative meaning of "closer…to you"? That is, distances from landmarks can be indicated with OF (which historically is from OFF, so a good indication of sources of motion). There are more recent songs "Closer to you" and "Close to you"; as well as "Closer to me" and "Close to me".
Here's a hypothesis as to why some people would use "to" in the xkcd example, and others "of": I think they parse the sentence in different ways. The people who use "to" would interpret it as "[closer than 500 yards] [to you]", whereas the people who use "of" would interpret it as "[closer than] [500 yards of you]".
That is, to me, "500 yards of you" seems like a certain point (or limit) beyond which I can't come. It's like saying "closer than [here]" or "closer than [this line]" or "closer than [the Moon]".




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