A question for you

Language is funny because the word itself has wide-ranging meanings. Are we talking about math, music, love, English, French, Catalan? What about dialects of those languages?

In David Foster Wallace‘s 2001 Harper’s article “Tense Present” I have a convincing argument for the thoroughly Midwestern construction “Where’s it at?” This conversational phrase can refer to the T.V. remote, the tuning fork, the wrestling tournament or anything else in the wide swath of land at this country’s heart.

Under the aside titled, “Example of grammatical advantages of a non-standard dialect that this reviewer actually knows about firsthand,” Wallace argues for the vernacular’s “metrical logic.”

“Where’s it at?” forms a “strong anapest,” and “Where is it?” has a “clunky monosyllabic-foot + trochee.”

Insert the sound of me dragging a dusty grammar book.

I’m not so deep in the grammatical powder that I can explain those terms offhand. They deal with intonation of language. Stay with me and read slowly.

• An anapest is a metrical foot that consists of two short syllables and one long syllable. “Where’s it at?” Short, short, emphasized long.

• Conversely, a trochee is one long syllable and one short syllable, preceded by a monosyllabic word in this case. “Where is it?” One syllable, emphasized long, short.

Wallace argues that the Midwesternism — a redundant sentence that ends with a preposition — flows better despite its unconventional (and grammatically incorrect) existence.

My favorite history teacher at Ambrose, a New Jersey native, first apprised me of this Heartland Speak.

I wouldn’t write the phrase in a journalistic article, but speaking? Sure. I’m with Wallace on this one. I know it’s incorrect, and more importantly, I know why it’s incorrect. I still like it.

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