Q: Something that drives me crazy these days is hearing people say “where it’s at” rather than “where it is.” Is the former phrase now acceptable, or is it still incorrect?
A: There are two versions of the expression “where it’s at.” One can get you a failing grade in grammar (in the few places where grammar is still being taught), but the other is an acceptable idiomatic expression.
First, the no-no. Using “where it’s at” instead of “where it is” is redundant. I’m talking about sentences like “Where are my car keys at?” The “at” is superfluous.
This usage (or, rather, misusage) isn’t especially new, however. Here’s an excerpt from John R. Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanism (1859): “At is often used superfluously in the South and West, as in the question ‘Where is he at?’”
Now, on to the other usage. There’s nothing wrong with the colloquial expression “where it’s at,” as in “Dylan really knows where it’s at!” It may not be perfect grammar, but it’s accepted as an idiom.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the idiomatic “where it’s at” this way: “the true or essential nature of a situation (or person); the true state of affairs; a place of central activity.”
This colloquial usage isn’t new either. The OED has published references for it going back to a 1903 article in the New York Sun, and I imagine it was used in speech quite a bit before that.
So that’s where it’s at!
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