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Or possibly IN prepositions. In which John discusses the maddening prepositions of English, and what they say and don't about where and how we live.

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Ah yes, there's the comfort of familiarity. Good morning, Hank. It's Tuesday.

So I've been thinking recently about how weird English is, especially when it comes to prepositions. Like we use 'in', 'on', and 'at' as location related prepositions, which is just so weird. The general idea is that 'in' is for big places and 'on' is for smaller places and 'at' is for extremely specific places. So you live IN a country but ON a street and AT a particular address, which is a lot to remember but it's even more complicated than that because, for instance, one lives IN a house or apartment because you're extensively surrounded by it or inside of it. But you also live AT home, unless you live AT school IN a dorm room ON a campus.

Similarly, you can be both AT the airport and IN the airport but you can't be ON the airport, unless you're like Godzilla standing on the airport. And you can be IN the airplane or ON the airplane but you can't be AT the airplane, although you can be AT the gate. And even though 'in' is supposed to be for large places you can be IN your airplane seat, which is one of the smallest places in the known universe. 

And to make it worse all these words have other meanings and shades of meaning. Like 'in' can refer to a change of state: you break something IN half. But it's mostly used to describe being within or inside something. 'On' generally means on top of something, hence being IN a car but ON a motorcycle. But 'on' can also be used to describe the state of something. For instance, you can be IN a car that is ON fire, although I don't recommend it.  Meanwhile, something that happens to my body superficially usually uses 'on': I was tapped ON the shoulder, whereas something that happens beneath the skin usually uses 'in': I was shot IN the shoulder. But even those incredibly complicated and obscure rules sometimes don't apply, see for instance being slapped in the face.

This is an altogether terrible system for expressing ideas, but generally I don't notice it because I grew up speaking English and its labyrinthine usage seems completely normal to me. I only notice preposition choice when it feels wrong to me. Like, one that's always bothered me is ON the phone. Why do we say ON the phone to mean, not that we're standing on our phones, but that we're using them. 'On the phone' used to mean 'participating in a phone call' but these days there are all sorts of ways to be on your phone. You can be texting on your phone, or looking at Instagram on your phone, or playing Fortnite on your phone or whatever. But I would argue that no matter what you're doing on your phone you're not really ON the phone, you're IN the phone.

When I'm using my phone I'm not really IN whatever physical space I happen to be occupying, and I'm not really WITH whatever physical people I'm near: I'm in the phone with people who are also in their phones. And when I exit my phone and enter physical space, it doesn't feel like I'm getting OFF my phone, it feels like I'm getting OUT of it. And this was the case for me long before my phone contained so many distractions and delights and horrors. Like, when I was a kid and I would talk on the phone to friends I always felt like I was not in my house or in my room, but I was in some disembodied space with the person I was talking to.

But now, because there so much more to do in my phone and also because there's so many more people in that disembodied space, being in my phone feels thrilling and terrifying and overwhelming and most of all, weird. Like I'm not sure of the language to describe it, not only which prepositions to use, but also which adjectives, which nouns. I don't know if understanding leads to language or language leads to understanding, but when it comes to life in my phone, I don't have adequate understanding or adequate language. All I know is that life on my phone feels much more like being IN a city than being ON an island.

Hank, I'll see you, not in a week, or at noon, but on Friday.