Etymology Grammar Usage

This here usage

Q: I was listening to Pat on WNYC when a caller wondered why some Americans say “this here” and “that there” instead of “this” and “that.” I think this usage may have originated among immigrants from Sweden, since the demonstrative pronouns in Swedish are parallel: den här and det här (sing.), de där (pl.).

A: In English, noun phrases like “this here dog” and “that there cat” are considered substandard. That’s because the demonstrative adjectives “this/these” and “that/those” already carry with them the notions of “here” or “there.”

“This” and “these” imply nearness to the speaker, so the “here” element is already built in. “That” and “those” imply distance from the speaker, so the “there” element is built in.

Linguists sometimes refer to one of those sets of demonstratives as “proximal” (near in space or time), and the other as “distal” (distant).

So in English, the phrases “this here dog” and “that there cat” are redundant; the spatial adverbs “here” and “there” are unnecessary. In fact, such phrases sound uneducated or backwoodsy to speakers of standard English.

But what’s true of English isn’t universally true.

In the Scandinavian languages, as you point out, as well as in many others, demonstrative adjectives don’t work in precisely the same way they do in English.

That is, they don’t necessarily carry with them the notion of nearness or distance. So an adverbial equivalent of “here” or “there” wouldn’t be out of place.

However, we doubt that Americans who speak this way inherited the usage from their Scandinavian ancestors.

The English essayist and poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge complained in the mid-19th century that uneducated British speakers were committing the same misdemeanor.

In a treatise on grammar in the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana: Or, Universal Dictionary of Knowledge (1845), Coleridge criticized the redoubling of word elements “for the sake of emphasis, which is a habit common to barbarous nations, and to the illiterate in all countries.”

And he meant all countries. Coleridge didn’t exempt the English, grumbling that “our own rustics commonly say this here, that there.” This usage (at least in English) is still considered rustic today.

As Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage says: “Our evidence from published sources shows that writers in general have no need to be told that this here and that there are something less than standard English.”

“The use of here and there for emphasis following a demonstrative adjective is a characteristic of dialectal and uneducated speech,” M-W continues. “It does not occur in writing except when such speech is being recorded, evoked, or imitated.”

We found an interesting discussion of this usage in a paper by the linguist Dorian Roehrs, published in 2010 in the Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics.

In the paper, “Demonstrative-Reinforcer Constructions,” Roehrs describes four different patterns in Germanic and Romance languages in which a demonstrative is accompanied by a “reinforcer” (usually an adverb equivalent to “here” or “there”).

As the author shows, these patterns (which vary in their word order) can be found in Yiddish, German, Pennsylvania German, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Icelandic, Dutch, Afrikaans, French, Italian, Spanish, and Catalan.

It would seem that in this case, English is the odd man out. But good or bad, “this here” has been part of the language since at least as far back as the 14th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The OED gives only two citations, one from around 1380 and one from 1762.

The later example, from Samuel Foote’s comedy The Orators, is a deliberate caricature, spoken by a blustering lawyer: “I should be glad to know, how my client can be try’d in this here manner.”

(A search of the play shows that the same character uses the phrases “that there manner,” “this here question,” “this here motion,” and “that there motion.”)

As the Oxford English Dictionary says within its entry for “this,” the use of the demonstrative adjective “strengthened by here immediately following” is “dial. [dialectal] or vulgar.”

Check out our books about the English language