Prepositions and Mind Control

Lonelysandwich makes an interesting point with regards the use of ‘on the App Store’ (in the context of iPhone applications) rather than ‘at the App Store’.

If I asked you where you went to buy your iPhone, would you say you bought it on the Apple Store? No, you wouldn’t. You’d say you bought it at the Apple Store. Does this mean that Apple chooses not to think of iTunes as a retail outlet or to think of apps as retail products?

In English, prepositions are intimately linked with their verbsThis holds true for German, as far as I know, and probably for many other languages. and you divorce them at your peril. The use of different preposition changes meaning. Of course, prepositions change and drift over time. We might say “Come over to my house” instead of “Come to my house”. Why? Who knows. (Let’s not get started on knocking someone up.)

It is conscious prepositional changes that get on my nerves. Why, for instance, do the guards on Virgin Trains announce that “We will be arriving into London Victoria”. Why not “arriving at”? What’s the thinking here? Did somebody decide that “to arrive” no longer takes the preposition “at”? I have half an idea that somebody thinks “arrive at” implies the termination of a journey, whereas “arrive into” implies the journey is ongoing. But is this the case?

Meanwhile, at or on the App Store, Apple areA violation of noun-verb number agreement, granted. But that’s a Britishism. trying to change how you think about their product.

I’ve always thought of an iPhone app, like any other software, as a product. Perhaps this has something to do with tying my first memories of software programs to the boxes in which they were sold, on the shelves at retail outlets like Egghead and CompUSA. But clearly, Apple thinks of apps differently. Apple, it seems, thinks of apps as content created by developers in the way that music is created by musicians and movies are created by filmmakers.


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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

4 thoughts on “Prepositions and Mind Control”

  1. We might also say “Come on over to my house”, or possibly even “Come on over down to my house” – which would be a plausible way of winning a prize for using four consecutive prepositions without sounding completely preposterous.

    Another thing. Does “meet with”, in the sense of “I met with Mr Rascal”, meet with your (dis-)approval?

    Don’t get me started with the nadger-kicking constantly perpertrated by the train companies on the English language.

  2. “Come on over down to my house” is just about brilliant.

    I have to say that I’m not trying to be prescriptive. At least, that’s not the motivation. I’m just irritated by people changing preposition in accordance with some sinister agenda.

    I think ‘meet with’ is fine. German has ‘treffen mit’ (as I recall, imperfectly), and the ‘with’ clarifies (whereas we might drop that word in English).

    Each to their own – except the nadger-kicking train companies, of course.

  3. If I asked you where you went to buy your iPhone, would you say you bought it on the Apple Store? No, you wouldn’t.

    *pantomime mode* Oh yes, I would 🙂 Assuming, of course, that one means the Apple Store at rather than a physical store.

    Using “on” rather than “at” is common for online / virtual versus real stores. It’s a bit like it’s more common to say “I’m on Google” rather than at “I’m at Google”. I don’t think there’s any conspiracy behind that 😉

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