July 9, 2015
Weekly Language Usage Tips: that’s where it’s at
A reader writes:
I’ve a question about the use of at or are when discussing location/position. For instance I frequently see written or hear spoken, say, “this is where we’re at in the process” versus “this is where we are in the process”. I find the former almost as irksome as someone asking “Where are you at?”, but it’s so commonly used I wonder if it is acceptable. I’m sure you have the answer.
It is ubiquitous, but you are right: it is wrong. And while it doesn’t distress me as much as “where are you at?” it is still pretty distressing. And while I don’t like it in conversations, I absolutely LOATHE it in writing. My response is: NEVER WRITE IT DOWN!
Why do I object to its use, especially in writing? That’s easy. It is redundant and totally unnecessary. It adds nothing to your statement. Garner calls it “notoriously illiterate.”
So where did it come from? Garner said that it became a catchphrase in the 60s (NOTE: no apostrophe in 60s). And he’s right. Sam Cooke, the incredible singer/songwriter in the day (NOTE: that’s MY day) wrote a song, ‘That’s where it’s at.’ (See youtube for many, many versions.) And it became an anthem for the hippies—that includes me—imagine my hair being brown with braids down to my butt and embroidered peasant blouses, purple bell bottoms, a red sash—those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end (that’s an inside joke for those of a certain age). But I digress. It became a catchphrase. That’s where it’s at. Peace is where it’s at. Love is where it’s at.
We certainly never imagined it being used to say, “This is where we are at in the process.” Hurts my ears.
And it caught on. It became a common casualism. And that brings me to why we shouldn’t use it in writing, especially in formal writing. It adds nothing, and it’s a casualism! Casual vs.formal, see the difference?
Anyway, while ubiquitous, it’s wrong. Don’t use it.