I’ve been flying more than usual lately, and I can’t help but notice this new way of welcoming people aboard aircraft. Though not yet universal, at least half the time (presumably when following the company script) flight attendants smile and say, “Welcome on board.” The use of the locative instead of the accusative case sounds odd to my ears. It’s as strange as saying . . .
I have to remind myself, of course, that the phenomenon of case collapse has been slowly marching forward for decades, if not centuries. We still have, for example, the accusative forms “whither” and “thither,” but they sound so hopelessly old-fashioned that we rarely use them.
If you had asked me last week, “Whither goest thou?” I should have answered, “I am going aboard the plane” — only to be welcomed “on board” by United Airlines’ smiling staff.
Perhaps you recall your grade school teachers correcting you and your classmates for saying, “Where are you at?” or “Where are you going to?” Mine did. They told us that using prepositions at the end of those questions was incorrect, or at least redundant.
And yet we often still feel the urge to clarify which “where” we’re using. Is it the locative where (a place)? Or is it the accusative where (a direction)? We say things like, “Where are you at right now?” and “Where is she going to?” Having lost the ability to differentiate clearly being in a place versus going to a place with the interrogative adverb, we append a “to” or an “at” to make sure listeners know what we mean.
“Welcome on board” takes the collapse of cases even further. It removes any hint of going or being. I could be just now stepping off the jetway and into the aircraft, or I could have been sitting there for an hour. Either way, I’m welcome.
Is this a harbinger of the next wave? Will we someday say “I’m going at the store?” Time will tell. Meanwhile, may I be the first to say, “Welcome at Vridar!”
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