Tuesday, August 4, 2015

New Orleans Edition: Where Y'at?

I arrived in New Orleans yesterday and dragged my trumpet down to Frenchmen Street, fully prepared to have a teenager mop the floor with me on a street corner jam session. There was one such group; four trumpets, two trombones, sousaphone and drums, and all four trumpeters were younger than 20 and all four put my conditioning to shame. I drifted into a bar called 30 x 90 where a jam session was advertised. I was welcomed onto the stage and the drummer Gene, who was running the session, gave me exactly what The Grammar Dance was looking for as he called up the house band.

“I need the band up here. Where y’at?” Obviously, “where y’at” is a contraction of “where are you at,” itself a grammatical stubbed toe. It is a case of ending a sentence with a preposition, but more than that, the preposition is wholly unnecessary in the first place. “Where are you” suffices perfectly to convey the sense of the question. But how fun is that? The answer is not at all.

Imagine a cool-as-iced-tea bandleader taking the microphone and saying, “I need the band back up here. Where are you?” No sizzle whatsoever. That said, “where y’at” doesn’t stop there. It is additionally used as a general and polite inquiry as to one’s health and happiness at a moment of encounter. The geolocation component is of course negligible when “Where y’at” is used as a greeting. Why would you ask such a question when the person is standing right in front of you? Were the person being asked unaware of the dual sense of the greeting, she might say, “I’m on Austerlitz and Tchoupitoulas, you big ninny. Same as you.”

The idiomatic answer to the “Where y’at” greeting, provided all is well, is “Awrite,” a phonetic expression of the phrase “all right,” delivered in a drawl that is born of high humidity, warm temperatures and a lifetime of exposure to genuine friendliness.