Rushville Republican


October 3, 2012

It's just before the at

RUSHVILLE — By no stretch of the imagination have I ever considered myself a grammarian who knows even a fraction of the rules English teachers follow so thoroughly. As a matter of fact, I hated diagramming sentences in English class, and I have no recollection of a dangling participle or split infinitives. But I do remember a few of the rules of grammar that get broken more often than they are observed. For instance, there is nothing more annoying to me than to hear someone say, “Where’s it at?” For one thing, the rules of grammar state that a sentence should never end in a preposition. For another, adding the word “at” to the sentence, “Where is it,” is redundant – the “at,” in other words, isn’t needed and it’s also a preposition. Remarking on the incorrectness of ending a sentence with a preposition, none other than Sir Winston Churchill once said that ending a sentence with a preposition was something up with which he would not put – rather than saying it was something he wouldn’t put up with! There’s no question about how difficult it is to follow all the rules of grammar. Ending a sentence with an “at” is just a pet peeve of mine.

My natural inclination, which I sometimes struggle to resist when someone says, “Where’s it at?” is to answer with the cliché, “Right before the ‘at.’” Sentences do not end with the word “at.” Doing so falls into the odious category of substandard English.

I’m reminded of a story told by the late Jeff Hufford. He once had a student in a speech class who kept making verb tense errors in his speeches. Jeff consistently called him on each mistake and explained why using the proper verb tense was important. The student took the lessons to heart, so much so that he began correcting his father when he heard him using the wrong verb tense, which made his father so angry that he went to see Jeff about it. “I don’t like my kid telling me how to speak!” he said to Jeff. Without missing a beat Jeff said, “Would you rather I taught him substandard English?” To which the man replied that he “reckoned not.” Jeff added that the man should be proud of his son for having learned to use correct grammar and for wanting to help his dad speak correctly. The man thought for a second and conceded that learning to speak Standard English wasn’t all that bad an idea after all.

The counter-argument that people put forward to justify using substandard English is that, as with the previous example, the listener gets the intended message, even if the wrong verb tense is used. While that may be true, it’s still improper grammar and certainly doesn’t reflect well on the speaker. The truth of the matter is we tend to speak the type of English we’ve heard spoken by others when we were growing up. If all a child hears is, “Where’s it at?” as an adult the redundancy of that sentence will sound perfectly natural to him. Just like the sentence, “He done a good job.” The child, who grew up not hearing it said correctly, won’t even “hear” the mistake when he becomes an adult. “He done a good job” will sound perfectly natural to him. I have lost track of how many times I’ve heard people say things like, “He done a good job” as opposed to “He did a good job.” It’s simply a verb tense problem, but it’s still substandard English.

There is a larger problem with the rampant use of substandard English, and that’s how if reflects not just on the person using it, but on the community as a whole. Over the last few weeks, I’ve written about what is needed to help this community grow. I have identified three factors so far: (1) an attractive community, (2) an outstanding school system and, (3) the quality of local healthcare. How we speak is a fourth element in the total package of qualities that will help bring new families back to Rush County. It’s not just how the community looks that matters, or the reputation of our school system, or the quality of healthcare services, it’s also the image we project.

Ending sentences with the word “at” may be nothing more than a Hoosier-ism, or it may be common usage among Midwesterners. It’s certainly not just the local folks who use the word improperly, but regardless of how widely “at” is used to end a sentence, it’s still substandard English. And it may also be just a habit to which we’ve simply become accustomed through common usage. Very much like the way the word “Washington” is pronounced. Listen the next time you hear someone pronounce it.  A fair share of the time the word is pronounced as though it were spelled “Worshington.” Mispronunciation is another habit that gives Midwesterners a bad name.

But if I would choose to eradicate one misplaced preposition from common conversation, it would be the “at” to the end of too many sentences. Next time you hear someone say, for instance, “Where’s it at?” stand up straight and tall and say, “Just before the ‘at’!”

That’s -30- for this week.

Text Only
  • There's something about Maryland My family unit has just returned from a death march – oops, make that, “vacation” – in Annapolis, Maryland. In spite of constant 96-degree temps (though it dropped as low as 95.7 at night), and the stifling humidity, we had lots of dolgurn fun. Mainl

    July 22, 2014

  • Learning to say goodbye From as far back as I can remember, saying hello has been a part of nearly each day.During my youth, it was used when I met new people my parents introduced me to and was frequently followed by a handshake. I couldn’t count the number of times I used

    July 18, 2014

  • Lessons from the largely forgotten war As we approach the official date on which the First World War started, July 28, 1914, when the first shots were fired by the Austro-Hungarians who invaded Serbia, it’s appropriate to think about the lessons that catastrophic event has taught us one h

    July 15, 2014

  • Please go away My wife is planning our summer vacation, which we will take in the fall. We took our spring vacation this summer. We got behind in 1984 and still haven’t caught up. I don’t have much input into the planning of these trips, but Mary Ellen did assign m

    July 15, 2014

  • Soothing '60's Surf Sounds I’m sitting in my home office enjoying a serenade of rhythmic pulsations emanating from the outside wall. It’s coming from our water spigot. No. 5 son (age 13) and his buddies are using it to fill water balloons. 1,500 water balloons to be exact. 1,5

    July 15, 2014

  • Soccer-stopping Storm a Lousy Treat What a great way to spend a Saturday morning in July: I’m sitting in my car with rain cascading on the roof, lightning skittering all over the sky, and thunder sockin’ it to the atmosphere with such force that I feel a rumbling in my bum.I’m staring

    July 8, 2014

  • Only in America - Top 10 As we move into the glorious months of summer, I thought you might be amused by reading the Top Ten List of what Canadians supposedly think of how things are going in this country. It’s a lot like David Letterman’s “top ten list.”Number 10: Only in A

    July 8, 2014

  • Government today is way too intrusive What ever happened to the America of my youth? That great country that was indeed the jewel of the common person of the world. The country where one could actually, through hard work and industry, make a good living and actually have the OPPORTUNITY

    July 8, 2014

  • Gone in the blink of an eye Over the holiday weekend I was able to enjoy three days, (somewhat) off work. Three day weekends are always a highlight for me and I am sure most of you will agree.I went fishing to wrap up my Sunday evening. While sitting in the old John boat castin

    July 8, 2014

  • Mum Mum If my grandmother were alive today, she would be 125, and she would still, no doubt, be walking around in her six-inch-high heels, the ones she asked to be buried in—and she’d have a Marlboro in her fingers. She demanded to be called Mum Mum because

    July 3, 2014