Seduced by a Preposition

I’m driving along a Jersey highway when I see a sign that reads, The Mall at Short Hills.

“God, I hate that,” I say to my friend Alicia. “The Mall at Short Hills. So friggin pretentious.”

For those of you who have never heard of the place, The Short Hills Mall is one of those über affluent consumerist hives that rake in more money than some nation states make from taxing their citizens. Filled with high-end merchants like Hermes, Jimmy-Choos, Cartier, Coach and Ferragamo; the place even displays Porsches and Bentleys next to the water fountains. The place is very, very upscale.

“The haughty use of a preposition,” Alicia says.

“I understand you use at to tell you where something is located,” I say. “But why can’t they just say it’s the Mall in Short Hills?”

“Doesn’t have the same cachet.”

“Using a preposition to make a place sound ritzier? An abuse of English is you ask me.” Alicia shrugs.

Now using “at” in this case is technically acceptable English usage but it grates on me. When popes and royalty used to sign proclamations they’d write “Given at Rome” or “Given at Rheims.” Makes what they were selling sound kind of grand, huh? I should have ended my book with “Given at Paramus.” That’d go over well. Using at like this is kind of like using the royal “we.” Ever listen to anyone who talks like that? Probably not, but if you did you’d want to lop their head off – just like the French used to do.

“You never see stores using at in less affluent areas,” Alicia says.

“Can you imagine The Target at Newark?” I say. “Or The Sears at The Bronx?”

“But look at how real estate people use at,” Alicia says. “Your flimsy townhouse isn’t in a town, its Camelot at Edgewater or Camelot at East Hanover.”

“Funny, its just Camelot Lyndhurst in Lyndhurst.”

“Lyndhurst isn’t a fancy town.”

“But it’s the same exact kind of development. All those places look the same! Built for a builders profit.”

“And some of the people living in those places now have mortgages that cost more than their townhouse.”

I know this sounds crazy, but I’m sure some people bought homes because the use of at in the brochures made their abodes seem fancier than they really were. Just like popes and kings, at made what developers were foisting on their customers sound more grand. Seduced by a preposition. Who would have thunk it?

This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put.


Comments

Seduced by a Preposition — 36 Comments

  1. I’ve always wondered why they used the “at” in certain advertisements i’ve seen. I was still uninterested either way.

  2. I don’t think it is technically right. My understanding (I could be wrong, but it seems universal to me among attorneys) is that things are located in a location, and happen at a location.

    Thus, “My office is located at Beverly Hills” but “I certify that this declaration is executed at Beverly Hills.”

    I suppose it flows from the annoying (and superfluous) American habit of asking “Where’s it at?” (but never “Where did it happen at?”)

    It’s trying to add a fancy-soundingness that’s grammatically wrong–a double sin.

  3. All those places look the same! Built for a builders profit.

    Well, I can’t imagine why else a builder would bother to spent all that time and effort building houses.

    It’s almost like they’re in the construction business to make money or something.

    Waiter replies: Builders are certainly entitled to make a profit, but not by using poor materials or shoddy construction. That’s what I mean by builder’s profit.”

  4. You know which one drives me crazy? In wedding announcements (yeah, I’m a wedding photographer, so I read them often), they always say “The bride was graduated from .. ”

    Was graduated from? Really? Couldja get any more pretentious?

    It grates on me every time I see it.

  5. Well, MY favorite Churchill quip is: “On being told by Bessie Braddock MP: “Winston, You’re drunk!” he replied “Bessie, you’re ugly. But in the morning I shall be sober.”

  6. There’s a subdivision in Mokena, IL called ‘Presentacia at Rider Ridge.’

    It used to be a cornfield.

    I have in-laws who used to live at Short Hills. I have been to that stinking mall. Not a fan.

  7. One of the first thoughts that came to mind was why did I say I was “at the GAP” the other day?

    I don’t say “I’m at the Old Navy” or “I’m at the H&M.” I wonder how that came about.

    One of my other thoughts was how right you are – in Trinidad and Tobago, their exclusive mall is called “The Falls at West Mall.”

  8. Then you’ll love how they renamed the Pyramid Mall we had in Ithaca, after the Pyramid company sold it to someone else. It’s now The Shops at Ithaca Mall. (Never mind that it’s actually in the Village of Lansing, not in the City of Ithaca or Town of Ithaca at all.)

  9. Kara,

    The school does the graduating, not the student. So, “The bride was graduated from .. ” is actually correct. “I graduated from Podunk U” is incorrect.

    Myself, I was graduated from The U at Podunk.

  10. Here’s my theory: “at” exalts the subject over the predicate, and implies that “The Mall” could move on to loftier climes if “Short Hills” didn’t convey enough cachet. “in”, on the other hand subsumes the subject to the predicate, indicating that “The Mall” is in fact a captive of “Short Hills”.

  11. Maybe, the next time you leave a tip for some poor, beleaguered food server, you can leave a little calling card that says, “Given at _____ ” and fill in the blank. Just to kind of make them seem more appreciated…

    (You miss me and my endless store of witty retorts. Admit it.)

    ~Amanda~

  12. The Short Hills Mall (er… Mall at Short Hills) is the only place I’ve ever been where an ATM gave me two $50 bills when I requested a $100 withdrawal.

    I figured the ATM assumed that if I was going to be shopping at that mall, there was no way I’d be spending less than $50!

  13. Great post, Mr. Rooney. Isn’t it funny how you’ve proudly told stories of up-selling restaurant customers by using haughty food descriptions in order to make the meal seem fancier, but when a developer or shopping mall owner engages in the exact same practice, you deride it?

    Oh, and anyone dumb enough to overpay for a home because they consciously or subconsciously think it is fancier than it really is based on the development’s name is a moron who deserves their loss.

    Waiter replies. Guilty as charge Virginia. But I didn’t make up the food descriptions on the menu. The owners did! Mongo just a pawn in the game of life.

  14. We have the ‘Promenade at Saucon Valley’…gee, if it’s in the valley shouldn’t it be ‘IN Saucon Valley’….oh, and if it rains, the clientele would surely drown, as the noses are hitched extra high there.

    Wanna really piss ‘em off….just say, ‘gee, an outdoor shopping center….isn’t that just like the old Levittown Shopping Centers Bill Levitt put up in his ‘affordable developements’ in NY, NJ, and PA? People curl up and hiss when faced with something so, what’s the word they use …..’common’.

  15. So, technically, instead of hitting on chicks with the line “There’s a party ‘in’ my pants… I should be saying “party ‘at’ my pants instead?! Seems pretentious to moi…

  16. @Paul – the OED defines “graduate” V. as “the successful completion of a program of study”. I’ve heard the other definition before, but I honestly don’t believe it’s correct by definition. A person graduates from a program … and then becomes a graduate (n.). :)

  17. I’ve got another bone to pick with real estate developers. It’s the habit of naming subdivisions and the streets in them for the things they displace: Country View Estates, Turkey Run Drive, Villas at the Meadows, Peaceful Valley Acres, etc.

  18. Two word people in the same car can get into all sorts of trouble.

    With me it’s modifiers. When I see the sign for a “Giant Truck Sale,” I always look for the giant trucks. But they never have them.

    But your quibble is more important than mine. All sorts of people were seduced into thinking they’d join the upper classes if they bought the right securities and moved into the right exclusive-sounding neighborhood and took the low-initial-payments mortgage because real estate always goes up, right, and you’ll refi in five years for equity.

    Almost all the people who were persuaded they were “moving up” were taken for suckers.

  19. This description of the Short Hills mall (I refuse to call it “The Mall at Short Hills”) could not be more accurate. I think it’s actually gotten more pretentious over time. At least, I remember a time when I could walk into more than half the stores and not feel totally out of place because I couldn’t afford anything they sold.

    On the other hand, there is an amazing lack of pretension on the part of the Short Hills Hilton. If they really wanted to do it up right, they should have gone the way of Beverly Hills and just called it the Short Hilton.

  20. It have been worse! They could have made it “The Shoppes at Short Hills!”

    Of course, we are all guilty of being that obnoxious. Aren’t we all technically “(Your name) at Gmail Dot Com” and “(Your Name) at Yahoo dot com” or the most grandiose or perhaps schizophrenic: “(Your Name) at Me.com”

  21. Sorry The Waiter but there is no Hermes store there….. Also I and everyone I speaker to just calls it the Short Hills Mall, we more or less forget the at which does not belong there anyways.

  22. @Kara: My penchant for pedantry prohibits me — not from alliteration, clearly ;-) — from pointing out that the intransitive use of the verb comes behind not one, but two transitive usages. (I must be looking at a different, perhaps newer, version of the OED online, as the exact definition you cited is not available.) However, there is a notation that using “graduate” in the intransitive sense is a U.S. usage stemming from the early 19th century (whereas the transitive sense dates back as far as the 16th). Both you and Paul are right; the transitive sense of the verb conveys the original meaning and from a purist’s perspective is the “correct” usage, but the intransitive usage has been in practice for some 200 years, and from a linguist’s perspective, whereby language is continually evolving, it is just as “correct” insofar as popular usage, over time, is what defines correctness.

  23. I swear if I ever win the lottery I’m going to do a housing development just so I can put up a sign proclaiming it to be “Doublewide Estates at Booger Holler”. Calling the sprawling crap built suburban houses on tiny lots “estates” just grates on me…

  24. Hello, I am not a native English speaker and I would be pleased if someone explained the following sentence for me:
    “This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put.”

    Is it a deliberate rearrangement of words on topic of preposition and the sentence would not make sense if taken out of context? Or would it be still not a pure nonsense?

    Waiter: This is a famous quote by Winston Churchill poking fun at the English rule that you cannot end a sentence with a preposition. Normal people do NOT talk this way

  25. Out in the more pretentious areas of the West Coast they have a different grammatical sales tactic: unnecessary ‘e’s. For example one wealthy development, containing quite luxurious homes crammed next to each other on one-block streets with five-digit house numbers, is called “Crowne Point”. I’ve often wondered how much more people paid for those houses just because of that single superfluous letter.

    Then there’s towns that inflate their egos and their rating on the Doucheometer by adding unnecessary suffixes. For instance, if you look up Carmel, CA on a map you might notice that it’s right next to a big blue thing. If you’re really observant you’ll see that the blue thing is labeled “Pacific Ocean,” but what if you aren’t? Well luckily some years ago they changed their name to “Carmel-by-the-Sea.” Thank God they cleared that up; no more wondering what all that water outside of town is! I’m still waiting for this trend to catch on; any day now I expect to hear about Lake Tahoe-by-the-Lake, Fort Lauderdale-by-the-Swamp and Santa Fe-by-the-Dirt.

  26. I would just like to point out, and i’m sure your aware of this fact but incase not, you have referred to where you are (New jersey) as Jersey, which is incorrect as Jersey is a Small island in between France and the UK.

    Guru replies – WTF? My Jersey will kick your Jersey’s ass!

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