Posted by Word Camel on August 13, 2002
In Reply to: What's that when it's at home posted by Gary on August 13, 2002
: : I am interested to learn of the derivation of the phrase "what's that when it's at home", where 'that' can be a word that the speaker/writer does not understand the meaning of.
: : with thanks
: : Kathy
: The 'that' could also be an event or object that is unexplained or unusual, e.g. a strange noise in the night or a bizarre haircut.
: The phrase was mostly used in the English Midlands and North and probably originated there. It is rather archaic now and I wouldn't expect to hear it from anyone under sixty.
Actually, I found it was used quite frequently, when I lived in London in the 80's and 90's - even my people in their twenties. I do think it was usually used self consciously with an element of ironic humour as if to indicate that the speaker is obviously simple (not in the least) because *that* (usually some ludicous bit of jargon or political initiative) must be so obvious to everyone. I'm glad. It's a lovely phrase and I'd hate to see if die out.