Auld Lang Syne

Saturday, December 1, 2012

"Where it's at" or why grammar faux pas make me crazy

I officially moved back to Maine in 2006. Upon my first trip to the grocery store for "just a few items," I noticed a wonderful thing: the 15 or fewer check out. Yes, that's right, the sign says "fewer" not "less." I became joyful, ebullient even. I congratulated the checker on the grammatical accuracy of the sign. I went to "Customer Service" and congratulated the manager. I knew I'd been rewarded for decades of correcting poor grammar. I'd moved to grammar paradise.

Not so fast. While the grocery store somehow miraculously does have signage that employs proper grammar, there is a glut of poor grammar spoken aloud in every area of life here. I'm referring to the penchant people have for dangling their prepositions off the ends of nearly every sentence. UGH!

"Do you know where we're at?" "Tell me where it's at." "I need to wait to see where I'm at." "He doesn't know where he's at."

Let me just say that I am AT my wits' end!

When I was still teaching college English, I was an absolute terror on this error! I corrected students right and left and would not tolerate this grammatical boo-boo, this crime against speech and writing. One day, having been corrected by me, a student offered a REASON, an EXPLANATION for the use of "at" at the end of a sentence. She asserted that the "at" gave specificity to the "where." ????huh???? Oh yes, there it is: supposedly if you are saying in general where something is, no need to use "at," but if the location is specific, you NEED the at. Once the laughter in my brain had subsided, once the incredulity of the conversation had played itself out, I simply said OH MY GOSH, are you serious? She was.

Of course this led to a great teachable moment for the entire class, most of whom actually thought her logic (their word not mine) was correct and her explanation plausible. I struck a blow for grammar that day and now former students of that class still comment to me that never ever again will they drop an "at" at the end of a sentence. Lesson learned. Dramatically so. (Do you like my virtual sentence there?)

But the "at-isms" continue to haunt my life. Here in Maine it is epidemic. I wonder if you, dear reader, are finding this to be true where you are. (NOTE: I did NOT say "where you're at" because you are already there, you are somewhere, not at somewhere)

I sit on our local school board. It is shocking to me that so many people on the board, on the staff in our district, INCLUDING principals and teachers, use the "at-ism" in everyday speech and writing. I cringe to hear this. It is like fingernails on a blackboard (Remember blackboards that were not a web-based platform for online classes?)  I digress. What is amazing to me is that anyone connected with education can so blithely and blatantly misuse grammar on a regular basis.

What is to be done? Can anything help? Or has grammar gone the way of cursive writing? (another soap box I may jump on at some point). I have no answer at this point other than to say I will continue to correct and admonish. Will you join me in stamping out the "ats" hanging on the ends of so many sentences?


  1. I can't stand it when people say "where we're at" or "where it's at", unless it's used in informal conversation. My supervisor uses those phrases in our work meetings all the time. I always cringe. (I'm not perfect in my english, but those are just SO wrong in a formal or professional setting).