Real Mistakes, Real Laughs:

Air bases were built on captured islands of Tinian, Saipan, and Guam but they were barley within the range of the long-range bombers.

(hope the bombadiers weren't on gluten-free diets)

Didn't catch the typo? Scroll to bottom of page

Monday, February 22, 2010

Where's It At?

To all of you who read this blog's title and thought, "How could a writer make such a grammatical mistake?" my congratulations.

To all of you who read this blog's title and thought "Where's what at?"
my condolences.

Once upon a time, nothing drove me crazier than "irregardless." It's so wrong but so commonly used that it's listed in the dictionary, albeit with the disclaimer "nonstandard" (that's Webster-speak for "incorrect"). Then along came those who think that "you and I" is correct under any circumstances, regardless (or should I say "irregardless") of its position in the sentence. To these hyper-correctors I sing the last line of humorist Dave Barry's song I'm In Love With a Proofreading Woman: "...she never says 'between you and I.'" I'v3 even made peace with double negatives because it seems that English is one of the few languages in which they are not correct.

But the one that tops them all is "where's it at?"

This annoyingly wrong usage probably stems from: 1) our ignorance of grammatical contractions, and 2) our neurotic need as Americans to speak in three syllables. I know that using the contraction correctly doesn't sound right. "Where's it?" practically begs the addition of a third syllable to maintain the same comfort level we've always had with the three-syllable "where is it?" It sounds affected and outdated. But who says correct grammar has to be comfortable? We tend to forget that the correct use of "at" refers to location or situation (at the movies, at 350 degrees, at one with the universe) in the answer, not the question! Exceptions are properly constructed questions like "At what time is the movie?" or "At which bookstore is the author speaking?" We leave the verbosity to Jane Austen and casually ask "When is the movie?"

I'm not really a grammar snob. I colloquialize with the best of them, often ending sentences with a preposition. I purposely use incorrect grammar in fiction writing to make dialogue sound authentic. But somewhere along the line I had been taught correct grammar from incorrect, something that isn't a priority in contemporary education. One look at television crawlers and captions proves the point. I shudder to think that if a well-known Wendy's commercial from the 1970s were reproduced today, the feisty little old lady would be asking, "Where's the beef at?"

Cynthia Polansky
"Expect the Unexpected"

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