The character of the word That is highly questionable. For sure it’s an indispensable part of every-day English usage but do not be fooled by its apparently unassuming ubiquity: it’s got a nasty edge.
Take, for example, the almost innocent line, ‘Have you heard about that Bruce Forsyth?’
Why include That in this question? Well, clearly something dodgy is about to be pinned to Bruce Forsyth here – some kind of gossip or something. By including That the speaker is distancing himself from Mr Forsyth and all those who are like him in whatever way is about to be revealed. In other words, That Bruce Forsyth – over there with them – is not like us for this unpleasant reason.
And here we touch on That’s similarity to They (about which this guide provides clear and cautionary guidelines). Where They starts the job of rustling up a group of people who aren’t us but know about them, That finishes the job by highlighting a particular person who is definitely one of them and therefore certainly not one of us. In other words, while They fannies about with (albeit sinister) generalisations, That gets personal and sticks the knife in. Together these two thugs are pretty imposing:
Mr Q: ‘You know what they say about that Bruce Forsyth?
Mr A: ‘No, what?’
Mr Q: ‘He’s one of them’
So next time you hear someone use that that word, you’d better hope you’re one of us (again, for a detailed explanation of who We are, see the guide to They.)
THIS AND THAT
So, still not convinced that that That word is pernicious? Maybe you think I’m being too harsh – we need a word to separate things out, point others in the direction of our thoughts. Such arguments are the product of the insidious way in which That has oozed into every corner of our language, peddling its divisive wears as it goes. Let’s look at more examples: imagine someone gives you something to look at, something you haven’t seen before, let’s say a carving of some sort. There are two main responses:
See how This manages to be inclusive whilst dealing with the unknown? The person who asks, ‘What’s this?’ is interested, will hold onto the object, examine it, be prepared to assimilate it into their itenary of new and interesting things of value. On the other hand, the person who asks, ‘What’s that?’ is practically requesting a stick to poke the new thing with. That person is suspicious, ready to be indifferent at best, disgusted at worst.
Such opportunities, to speak This way or That, are myriad. There’s the person who tells you they’ve just moved to Thrapston:
‘Where’s Thrapston?’ asks the interested person.
‘Where’s That?’ asks the person who will never visit you there.
If any of you are still in doubt, let me finish you off. There is no greater example of That’s vicious disregard for ethics and prudence than its role in the term Take That. Many of you will associate this with a boy band, called Take That, who gave us a further clue as to their understanding of the term by producing a song called Take That and Party.
Let’s take a moment to unravel the meanings underlying the words here.
Take That – with an emphasis on That – is usually assumed to be the words which accompany some kind of physical attack on a fellow human being. Often a punch, sometimes the thrusting of a sword – this is a triumphant declaration of violence. When the violence turns into an onslaught of blows one can extend the term as follows: That That, and That, and That-and-That. Need I go on?
But what of the phrase Take That and Party? Here, the violent association doesn’t appear to fit. And so we are left with the question, Take What and Party? It seems clear enough to me – the only explanation that fits the context is, I’m afraid, drugs. For Take That and Party, read Take Drugs and Party.
In conclusion I put it to you, can their be any reasonable doubt? One of the most divisive, two-faced, unfriendly, violent and drug-related words in the English Language is …That one, over there.