the floating “that”: a linguistic innovation?

(Orlando) “You’ve got to eat those vegetables and do that exercise every day.” “We’re concentrating on those metrics, that whole assessment piece.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m noticing this speech pattern lately. People use “that” to intensify a noun. I think they’re mimicking a situation in which you have already talked about an important topic–and perhaps achieved agreement on it–and now you use “that” to refer back to the previous discussion. But in this new linguistic phenomenon, there’s no previous discussion to refer back to. “That” simply stresses the following noun.

No value-judgment implied. People are endlessly inventive; language constantly changes. I just find this new speech pattern interesting. (I wouldn’t use it in written text, however.)

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.