Re: Grammar question: where to find the document?

Subject: Re: Grammar question: where to find the document?
From: Ned Bedinger <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 25 Jun 2008 15:56:17 -0700

SB wrote:
> Is this correct? Where *TO* find the document?
> For some reason, this does not sound right to me but I can't figure out why.

SB, thanks for sharing, you know some funny places to go looking for
strangeness in word sense. This one is a fine specimen, good eye!

Compare it to this alternative version of the same scenario (locating a

TW: I need to find documents. Let's go look!
Cab Driver: OK. Where to?
TW: To the archives.

Prepositions nearly always sound weird to me. They indicate some
relationship between things, but so often the exact meaning is lost in

My mind grasps 'to' (when the cabbie asks "Where to?") as a preposition,
something like 'toward', which makes good sense for indicating a
location. The TW's response reinforces that sense of 'to' as a
preposition -- there's a sort of symmetry, as if the question and answer
are two aspects of the same locative thought, expressed in the same
prepositional framework.

But if you try to complete the question "Where to?" with an object of
the preposition, you get awkward broken English. The only logical way to
complete it is as an infinitive ("Where to go?"), which seems like
vernacular speech, but still is more comprehensible than "Where to

So when you notice a funny winking and sparkling from your phrase
("Where to find"), you're right, it does have a strange mirror finish
that invites the mind to try and resolve the implicit answer (the answer
to any question is implicit in the question) as both a location and an
infinitive action. That winking and sparkling is Mother English in high
mirth, watching us descend into confused parsing madness to get at the
alledged unambiguous meaning of her /word/grammar/syntax/ confabulations.

Good for Mother English keeping us intrigued with obscure puzzlers, and
good for you for calling her on it! Its good for the wood 'cause it's wax.


Ned Bedinger
doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com


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Grammar question: where to find the document?: From: SB

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