LawProse Lesson #94

LawProse Lesson #94

What’s wrong with “Where are you at?” or “Where’s it at?” ANSWER: Nothing is “wrong” with it in certain regional or class dialects: most linguists would say that this phrasing is perfectly appropriate for those settings. The problem is that those dialects have traditionally been associated with uneducated speech. The question is whether Where is it at? is a part of Standard American English or Standard British English. It isn’t. Many people misguidedly believe that the problem with the phrase is that it ends in a preposition. But that’s not the source of the trouble. It is simply that where is a “locative” — it already includes the idea of place, so the at is redundant. It may seem surprising that it is correct to say Which hotel are you at? but not *Where are you at? The reason is that the former contains no locative (and therefore no redundancy) and has never been stigmatized in Standard English. Some readers will suggest that *Where are you at? is perfectly clear. No one doubts its meaning, so they urge that it should be acceptable. But they ignore the socially significant reality that many perfectly clear sentences are simply not found in the speech of educated people. Once a phrase is stigmatized as nonstandard, it may spend centuries in the linguistic shadows, with an air of dubiety hovering around it. And that’s not where we’re at today. That’s where we are today. Sources: Garner’s Modern American Usage 857 (3d ed. 2009). R.W. Burchfield, The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage 76  (3d ed. 1996).

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