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Old 02-12-2020, 05:53 PM
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Why do people ask the question "Where is it at?"


I grew up in southern Ontario and moved to British Columbia about 30 years ago. While living in Ontario I never heard anyone ever use ask the question "Where is it at?" when inquiring where something is or went until I moved to BC.

In a slightly different context, some people here will say, "Where is that at?" when asking for directions or where an object might be located.

The proper question is, "Where is it?", or "Where is that?" or perhaps a more precise question might be, "Where is that located?" I've never ended that question with the word "at"!

Where does this term come from, and why do people only on the west coast say this? It's not only slightly annoying, it makes me wince every time I hear either of them and I feel like correcting the person who asked the question, but feel it's not my place to do so.

Last edited by dan39; 02-12-2020 at 05:57 PM.
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Old 02-12-2020, 06:54 PM
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Originally Posted by dan39
The proper question is, "Where is it?", or "Where is that?" or perhaps a more precise question might be, "Where is that located?"
What's traditionally considered "proper" for formal written English doesn't necessarily apply in colloquial spoken English. "Where is it at?" has been accepted colloquial usage in many variants of North American English for at least 150 years; you're not going to change any minds at this point by telling people it's not "proper".

Quote:
Originally Posted by dan39
Where does this term come from, and why do people only on the west coast say this?
It's not only people on the west coast (of North America) who say this. As the source quoted in the above link notes,
Quote:
The use of at following where was first noted in 1859 by Bartlett, who observed in his Dictionary of Americanisms that it was "often used superfluously in the South and West, as in the question 'Where is he at?'" Such usage first drew the attention of critics at about the turn of the century, and they have routinely prescribed against it since. Although fairly common in speech, this construction rarely occurred in writing until the 1960s, when the idiomatic phrases where it's at and where one is at came into widespread use by jazz and rock musicians, hippies, and others […]
As the linked blog author points out, this usage remains extremely common in the first-person-plural form "where we're at", as in "where we're at right now".

I don't think you're going to be able to find a precise answer to the question of exactly where or when this construction originated, although Google Ngram Viewer attests to use of the phrase "where is he at" before 1820, and the related phrase "where it's at" spiked in the 1960's.

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Originally Posted by dan39
It's not only slightly annoying, it makes me wince every time I hear either of them and I feel like correcting the person who asked the question, but feel it's not my place to do so.
Your reluctance is justified, since (a) you're right that you have no business correcting the informal English usage of other people, except maybe your own young children or a non-native speaker who's asked you for a little grammar monitoring, and (b) this is a longstanding and very common informal usage that you don't even have any justification for calling "incorrect" in colloquial speech.

Everybody has their own personal prescriptivist pet peeves about certain mutations in linguistic evolution (one of mine is the increasingly popular "based off of" for "based on"), but that doesn't mean it's appropriate to consider them "errors". If you have official jurisdiction over somebody else's formal written English, e.g., as a teacher or an editor, feel free to correct their use of "where is it at?" to "where is it?". In all other circumstances, though, you'll just have to keep your wincing to yourself.
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Old 02-12-2020, 07:59 PM
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Another thing I'm wondering about is whether it has two turntables and a microphone.
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Old 02-12-2020, 08:19 PM
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Where does this term come from, and why do people only on the west coast say this? It's not only slightly annoying, it makes me wince every time I hear either of them and I feel like correcting the person who asked the question, but feel it's not my place to do so.
Hey, don't take away one our most cherished localisms
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Old 02-12-2020, 10:02 PM
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There's the idiomatic slang phrase to know where it's at, to be in the know, hip, savvy. If you deleted the "at" from the end, the phrase would become unusable.
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Old 02-12-2020, 11:16 PM
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We never miss an opportunity to use a preposition to end a sentence with.
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Old 02-13-2020, 01:24 AM
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In my area, the distinction is one of scale and mobility: something can't be "at" somewhere unless they have agency and might be somewhere else. You can't ask "Where's the pen at" because the pen can't be anywhere on purpose; it was just where it was left: ergo "Where's the pen?" and "Where's Alice at?"

"Where's Alice at" means you were either expecting her presence or seeking her company elsewhere. "Where's Alice" means you have a much stronger emotional reaction to her absence.
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Old 02-13-2020, 01:28 AM
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I grew up in southern Ontario and moved to British Columbia about 30 years ago. While living in Ontario I never heard anyone ever use ask the question "Where is it at?" when inquiring where something is or went until I moved to BC.

In a slightly different context, some people here will say, "Where is that at?" when asking for directions or where an object might be located.

The proper question is, "Where is it?", or "Where is that?" or perhaps a more precise question might be, "Where is that located?" I've never ended that question with the word "at"!

Where does this term come from, and why do people only on the west coast say this? It's not only slightly annoying, it makes me wince every time I hear either of them and I feel like correcting the person who asked the question, but feel it's not my place to do so.
It certainly is a colloquialism but, and maybe it is just me, but I have always interpreted "Where is that?" and "Where is that at?" as having two different meanings, the last being more specific.

For example, if I was talking about the Palace of Westminster and someone asked me "Where is that?" I would answer "London."

If someone asked, "Where is that at?" I would assume that they knew it was London but were asking for a more specific location with a possible followup regarding how to get there from the airport or a hotel in London where they were planning to stay.

ETA: Of course, I'm from north-central West Virginia where our language is probably 40% Appalachia, 40% Pittsburgh-ese, and 10% Southern U.S.

Last edited by UltraVires; 02-13-2020 at 01:33 AM.
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Old 02-13-2020, 01:30 AM
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...It's not only slightly annoying, it makes me wince every time I hear either of them and I feel like correcting the person who asked the question, but feel it's not my place to do so.
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Originally Posted by Kimstu View Post
...you'll just have to keep your wincing to yourself.
And (to OP) perhaps rather than just repressing your inappropriate reaction, try to gain some insight into why you'd have such a parochial reaction to someone who speaks a slightly different dialect to that of your own time and place.

How do you feel about English speakers from (say) Glasgow or Newcastle, who you might barely understand at all? How about Japanese people, who say things in a completely unfamiliar way?

I'm not claiming to have all the answers about the psychology involved, or to be critical of the OP in particular since "pet peeves" are so common, but it's an interesting social phenomenon that people can get extremely worked up into a prescriptivist frenzy only about people who speak almost the same way they do, but not quite.

Last edited by Riemann; 02-13-2020 at 01:33 AM.
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Old 02-13-2020, 03:28 AM
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In grammar school, we were taught the rule of thumb to reply to a question such as, "Where is it at?", by saying, "It's right before the at."
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Old 02-13-2020, 03:45 AM
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In grammar school, we were taught the rule of thumb to reply to a question such as, "Where is it at?", by saying, "It's right before the at."
Are you under the impression that this somehow demonstrates the wrongness of the construction? A hypothetical smartass grammar school kid could equally well respond to "Where is it?" by saying "It's after the is".
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Old 02-13-2020, 06:35 AM
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What's traditionally considered "proper" for formal written English doesn't necessarily apply in colloquial spoken English. "Where is it at?" has been accepted colloquial usage in many variants of North American English for at least 150 years; you're not going to change any minds at this point by telling people it's not "proper"......
Nor is it the only construction of this type. If you were in the South West of England you would hear people ask "Where's it to?" Same arguments apply - it's English, enjoy it.

BTW this wiki page suggests there is also a North American usage of this form:

Quote:
The use of to to denote location. Where's that to? ("Where's that?"). This is something that can still be heard often, unlike many other characteristics. This former usage is common to Newfoundland English, where many of the island's modern-day descendants have West Country origins — particularly Bristol — as a result of the 17th–19th century migratory fishery.
j
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Old 02-13-2020, 07:27 AM
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If you were in the South West of England you would hear people ask "Where's it to?"
Whilst this is occasionally heard around these parts, it is by no means common, and limited to older people in rural areas.
Anyway, the response to the question would probably be "yer tiz" (Here it is).
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Old 02-13-2020, 07:55 AM
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Whilst this is occasionally heard around these parts, it is by no means common, and limited to older people in rural areas.
Anyway, the response to the question would probably be "yer tiz" (Here it is).
Hi Dave - we made many trips to mid Devon - Okehampton area - up to about a decade ago, and its use was pretty widespread at that time. (The people we knew down there who used it were not the youngest, I'll grant you.)

It used to confuse the hell out of Trep junior, back in the day.

j
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Old 02-13-2020, 08:11 AM
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The OP is asking why people say this, implying (with indignation) that they don't have a "good reason" for doing so. Others have noted that no one is under any obligation to satisfy the OP when using commonly accepted expressions in speech, but there is, in fact, a reason for this construction, which is related to Treppenwitz's observation about a similar construction heard in Southwest England.

First, we should distinguish between the noun clause where we're at, etc., discussed in the blog mentioned by Kimstu, which is an idiomatic expression, and the actual question which is bothering the OP so much. As Johanna notes, the noun clause where we're at, etc., is a single, idiomatic lexical unit, and becomes meaningless if you remove the at.

The OP, however, is offended by the actual question, Where is it at?, and believes that it has some kind of faulty deep structure. Actually, it's not really so different from questions such as:
What is that for? (referring to a tool, etc.)
Who is that by? (referring to a song, etc.)
and similar questions, which probably the OP him/herself uses.

In this case, the deep structure is like someone saying to you on the phone with a bad signal, "I'm at the market." You don't hear the last word, and you could ask for clarification, saying, "What are you at?" However, because location is the key issue, many speakers will substitute the interrogative pronoun what with where, as a kind of emphasis, and say, "Where are you at?" This is syntactically the same as the question, "Where is it at?"

So the issue here is not the use of the word at--which is similar to the examples above that I'd bet even the OP uses--but rather the simple substitution of the interrogative pronoun to emphasize location. Where becomes a token for the place--which functionally is perfectly reasonable and practical.

This aligns with the distinction UltraVires describes, and I would say that it is not just a regional colloquialism, but a broader and more or less standard usage.
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Old 02-13-2020, 08:22 AM
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"Excuse me, do you know where it is at?"
"You should never end a sentence with a preposition!"
"Oh, sorry. Do you know where it is at, asshole?"
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Old 02-13-2020, 09:49 AM
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And then there is the New Orleans greeting "where y'at," which translates into basically a "how are you?" or "what's going on?"
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Old 02-13-2020, 10:57 AM
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I would not expect to hear the preposition position rules anywhere outside of a formal paper. It just sounds so odd to the ear. I do agree the "at" is superfluous, but I couldn't tell you whether or not I say that anymore or less than the other form. I know I would say "where is it?" but I could easily say "where's it at?" too. I think the former would be used more for objects (e.g. a hairbrush), and the latter more for places (e.g. McDonald's).
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Old 02-13-2020, 01:52 PM
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So basically what I'm getting here about the questions "Where's it at?", "Where is that at?" and various differences of the same question from olden-times through to today are acceptable. I am truly enlightened by all of your responses and I will not judge a person based on their location, dialect, or use of these terms and accept them as they are. Although my ears may be offended I should not be offended by the use of these questions.

Thank you to all who responded! Your time and effort have been very much appreciated! I have learned so much.

Now, where's my cat at?
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Old 02-13-2020, 01:58 PM
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Do they also still use "What's the haps?" out in B.C.?
That'd be Super old school.
I hope at least "rad", "totally rad" and their ilk are dead.

Down here in the mid US, we "find things back" after losing them, rater than just "find them".
Regionalisms are weird and, usually, inexplicable holdovers from some past dialect.
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Old 02-13-2020, 02:04 PM
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I grew up in southern Ontario and moved to British Columbia about 30 years ago. While living in Ontario I never heard anyone ever use ask the question "Where is it at?" when inquiring where something is or went until I moved to BC.

In a slightly different context, some people here will say, "Where is that at?" when asking for directions or where an object might be located.
Because it's a perfectly valid construction, no different from What's it near? or What's it next to?

Quote:
The proper question is, "Where is it?", or "Where is that?" or perhaps a more precise question might be, "Where is that located?" I've never ended that question with the word "at"!

Where does this term come from, and why do people only on the west coast say this? It's not only slightly annoying, it makes me wince every time I hear either of them and I feel like correcting the person who asked the question, but feel it's not my place to do so.
There's nothing for you to wince at. Nothing to correct.

Last edited by GreysonCarlisle; 02-13-2020 at 02:04 PM.
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Old 02-13-2020, 04:49 PM
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Hearing this used in context, adding “at” to the end of the sentence is not arbitrary. It implies that you aren’t simply requesting info, but you are seeking the location for a specific purpose.

If someone asks me, “Where are the scissors,” they may be just curious or they may need them. It’s ambiguous. Maybe they just want to be sure that they are put away in their proper place for safety, or can be accounted for in the near future. If they say, “Where are the scissors at,” it is implied that they are seeking the scissors for urgent use.

I think of it like adding “very” as a vague adjective. It’s subjective but not meaningless.
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Old 02-13-2020, 05:52 PM
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Hearing this used in context, adding “at” to the end of the sentence is not arbitrary. It implies that you aren’t simply requesting info, but you are seeking the location for a specific purpose.

If someone asks me, “Where are the scissors,” they may be just curious or they may need them. It’s ambiguous. Maybe they just want to be sure that they are put away in their proper place for safety, or can be accounted for in the near future. If they say, “Where are the scissors at,” it is implied that they are seeking the scissors for urgent use.

I think of it like adding “very” as a vague adjective. It’s subjective but not meaningless.
Agreed. I think that is in line with my Palace of Westminster example above. If someone asks "Where is that?" it is a more general question, really just for conversation or knowledge, not for some immediate useful purpose.

If someone asks "Where is that at?" then I would think that they have some semi-urgent purpose for a more definition location as they may be planning a trip soon.

Similar to your scissors example, if someone asked "Where are the scissors?" I would probably say "in the kitchen." If they asked "Where are the scissors at?" I would probably say, "in the kitchen, drawers by the stove, third drawer down, probably underneath the 50 ketchup packets."
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Old 02-13-2020, 05:54 PM
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I was taught that ending a sentence with a preposition was an indication of lack of intelligence for not using proper grammar, by an elementary school English teacher.

Whenever students would forget and ask “Where is this thing at?” etc. She would respond “between the A and the T.”

For whatever reason it made an impression on me.
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Old 02-13-2020, 06:03 PM
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I was taught that ending a sentence with a preposition was an indication of lack of intelligence for not using proper grammar, by an elementary school English teacher.
Used to be a lot of that bullshit flying around back in the day. Not so much now, at least not that I've seen recently.
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Old 02-13-2020, 06:10 PM
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I was taught that ending a sentence with a preposition was an indication of lack of intelligence for not using proper grammar, by an elementary school English teacher.

Whenever students would forget and ask “Where is this thing at?” etc. She would respond “between the A and the T.”

For whatever reason it made an impression on me.
I was taught the same thing and so were many others, including apparently the OP. Because of that, many people look down on those who end sentences with prepositions. As a result, people who want to succeed in business or in other public ventures know this, and refrain from ending their sentences with prepositions. People who do not run the risk of being looked down upon because they do not conform their style to this social convention. It is self-propagating.

This is the case even if it is technically correct to end a sentence with a preposition.
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Old 02-13-2020, 08:11 PM
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"Ain't it hard when you discover that
He really wasn't Where It's At..."
-R. Zimmerman

I think it was Tom Paxton who wrote that "where it's at" means "rich". Meanwhile, we have temporal displacement.

"Where is it from?" ==> looking back.
"Where is it going?" ==> looking forward.
"Where is it at?" ==> looking right now.
"Is it where it's at?" ==> so retro!
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Old 02-13-2020, 10:04 PM
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I was taught the same thing and so were many others, including apparently the OP. Because of that, many people look down on those who end sentences with prepositions. As a result, people who want to succeed in business or in other public ventures know this, and refrain from ending their sentences with prepositions. People who do not run the risk of being looked down upon because they do not conform their style to this social convention. It is self-propagating.

This is the case even if it is technically correct to end a sentence with a preposition.
I feel like the "don't end a sentence with a preposition" superstition is fading, thankfully. Same with split infinitives. It's taken a long time, but we're finally getting there. (Hell, H.W. Fowler, a grammarian's grammarian if there ever was one, dismissed it as a "cherished superstition" back in freaking 1925. And almost a hundred years later, there are still some folk who cleave to this silly "rule," but, thankfully, they are becoming a minority.)

I didn't interpret the OP's issue as being one of ending a sentence with a preposition so much as the "at" being redundant and unnecessary.

Last edited by pulykamell; 02-13-2020 at 10:06 PM.
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Old 02-13-2020, 10:40 PM
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FWIW, Turkish does the same thing, in effect. In Turkish, ne means 'what' and -re is a combining form meaning 'place'. So that nere by itself means 'what place', i.e. 'where'. Except the normal way to ask "where" in Turkish is "nerede?" The -de is the locative case ending that means 'at'.
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Old 02-13-2020, 11:14 PM
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I grew up in southern Ontario and moved to British Columbia about 30 years ago. While living in Ontario I never heard anyone ever use ask the question "Where is it at?" ...
I grew up in southern Ontario too, (now eastern Ontario) and it grates my ears as well.
It's not a west coast thing at all. Watch any episode of "Cops" and I swear, every cop uses this pattern: Where's your ID at?," "Where do you live at?."

If you're not used to it it's jarring.

Last edited by Leaffan; 02-13-2020 at 11:16 PM.
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Old 02-13-2020, 11:26 PM
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I grew up in southern Ontario too, (now eastern Ontario) and it grates my ears as well.
It's not a west coast thing at all. Watch any episode of "Cops" and I swear, every cop uses this pattern: Where's your ID at?," "Where do you live at?."

If you're not used to it it's jarring.
Here in the Chicago area (and I believe going up into Wisconsin and perhaps Minnesota), we have the construction "come with" as in "Can I come with?" instead of perhaps the more usual "Can I come along". I believe it comes from the German verb mitkommen. I never realized that it was an unusual construction until college, when I started mingling with people from other parts of the States and world. The "at" ending of location interrogatives is pretty normal here, too.

Last edited by pulykamell; 02-13-2020 at 11:27 PM.
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Old 02-14-2020, 08:09 AM
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Thank you to all who responded! Your time and effort have been very much appreciated! I have learned so much.
Yeah, I had to turn my thinking around like this back when I learned that "to ax" instead of "to ask" was a long-used expression, dating back over 1000 years, and had always been the standard term for large subsections of the english-speaking population when it wasn't the actual majority term.

So now I save my upset for inappropriate apostrophe use.
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Old 02-14-2020, 09:03 AM
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Yeah, I had to turn my thinking around like this back when I learned that "to ax" instead of "to ask" was a long-used expression, dating back over 1000 years, and had always been the standard term for large subsections of the english-speaking population when it wasn't the actual majority term.

So now I save my upset for inappropriate apostrophe use.
I know! Nothing grates like unnecessary apostrophe's, right?




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Old 02-14-2020, 09:59 AM
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Well, what had happened was.....
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Old 02-14-2020, 12:03 PM
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I do get a bit annoyed if someone asks me, “Where is the ATM machine at?”

For those who find it redundant (and I understand the reasoning), are these questions also containing redundancies?

“Where is it currently?”

“Where is it located?”

To me the first question implies that something has moved recently, so it’s not entirely redundant. But removing the word “currently” shouldn’t change the answer, unless the answer might be, “It moves around and its location depends on the time and date.”

I think in the second question the word “located” just means the same thing as “at”, it just sounds a bit more elegant.
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Old 02-14-2020, 12:23 PM
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......For those who find it redundant (and I understand the reasoning), are these questions also containing redundancies?

“Where is it currently?”......
What, you mean at this moment in time?

j
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Old 02-14-2020, 12:29 PM
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What, you mean at this moment in time?

j
Yes. And we need to know sooner, rather than later.
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Old 02-14-2020, 01:48 PM
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Yeah, I had to turn my thinking around like this back when I learned that "to ax" instead of "to ask" was a long-used expression, dating back over 1000 years, and had always been the standard term for large subsections of the english-speaking population when it wasn't the actual majority term.

So now I save my upset for inappropriate apostrophe use.
You remember that line from "The Stone Troll":

Said Tom: "I don't see why the likes o' thee
Without axin' leave should go makin' free"


Ax for ask is way older than 1,000 years; it goes back through Old English clear through Proto-Germanic and all the way back to Proto-Into-European. The k and s in that verb have been dancing the do-si-do for 5,000 years now.
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Old 02-17-2020, 03:16 AM
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Originally Posted by Riemann View Post
Are you under the impression that this somehow demonstrates the wrongness of the construction? A hypothetical dumbass grammar school kid could equally well respond to "Where is it?" by saying "It's after the is".
Edited to conform with logic.
  #40  
Old 02-17-2020, 10:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dereknocue67 View Post
Edited to conform with logic.
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  #41  
Old 02-17-2020, 10:42 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Treppenwitz View Post
What, you mean at this moment in time?

j
Quote:
Originally Posted by Leaffan View Post
Yes. And we need to know sooner, rather than later.
"Hey, Yogi, what time is it?

Yogi Berra: "You mean now?"
  #42  
Old 02-17-2020, 10:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Atamasama View Post
If someone asks me, “Where are the scissors,” they may be just curious or they may need them. It’s ambiguous. Maybe they just want to be sure that they are put away in their proper place for safety, or can be accounted for in the near future. If they say, “Where are the scissors at,” it is implied that they are seeking the scissors for urgent use.
Yeah, and I would also tend to hear in that formulation of the question a slight trace of accusation, as if the questioner is asking because they didn't find the scissors where they reasonably expected to find them.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave B.
Whilst this is occasionally heard around these parts
Ooh, there's another one. The British use of "whilst" where an American typically expects "while" never fails to take me aback, no matter how thoroughly I consciously recognize that it's absolutely correct British English.
  #43  
Old 02-18-2020, 04:47 AM
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Hmm, correct by definition, albeit still dubious. Look up the history of the word: the final -st was tacked on for really no reason at all. Somebody must have really liked final consonant clusters.
  #44  
Old 02-18-2020, 03:48 PM
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Anyway, to recap, the phrase "where it's at" is definitely a thing. In the dictionary and all. I expect that to settle the matter.

1. (informal) cool, trendy
2. (informal) true, truthful

Another Bob Dylan quote, from "Positively 4th Street":
You say you lost your faith, but that's not where it's at
You have no faith to lose and you know it
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