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I've often the following:

Bob: Have you seen Ian ?

Geoff: Yes, he went that-a-way.

What is the reason people sometimes jokily add the extra "-a-" into the phrase? Where did this come from? It always makes me think of black-and-white gangster movie chase scenes. But that's probably just me.

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No it is not just you. I also think of cartoons like Bugs Bunny –  mplungjan Apr 12 '13 at 11:34
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

That-a-way is of British origin and dates from the mid-17th century.

Here's an example from a footnote to Richard Brome's "A Jovial Crew; or, The Merry Beggars" in The ancient British Drama (1810):

1i Skise out this away and skisc out that away I should suppose we ought to read Skir out this a way and skir out that a way To skir is to scour to pass hastily So in Macbeth Send out more horses skir the country round Again in King Henry V And make them skir away &c

28 Skise out this away, and skise out that away. — I should suppose we ought to read

" Skir out this a way, and skir out that a way."

To skir is to scour, to pass hastily.

The same play with this same line was also published in 1744 in A select collection of old plays:

.. out again at afternoon, and so 'till supper-time; skise out this away, and skise out that away ; (he's no snail I assure you;) and Tantivy all the country over, where hunting, hawking, or any sport is to be made, or good sellowship to be had ; and ...

In fact, the comedy was first staged in 1641 or 1642 and first published in 1652. Samuel Pepys saw it and wrote in his diary:

... and so I went away with Mr. [Henry] Moore, and he and I to the [King's House] Theatre [Royal], and saw “The Jovial Crew,” the first time I saw it, and indeed it is as merry and the most innocent play that ever I saw, and well performed.

This side-by-side webpage of the 1652 quarto and the modern text includes this on the old side:

... Skiſe out this a-
way, and ſkiſe out that away. (He’s no Snayle I as-
ſure you.)

And for the modern:

Out again at afternoon, and so till supper–time. Skice out this– a–way, and skice out that–a–way.* — He’s no snail, I assure you.

The asterisk notes:

] This edition; Skise out this away, and skise out that away. Q1. OED wrongly identifies 'this-a-way' and 'that-a-way' as nineteenth- and twentieth-century Americanisms indicating direction. See this-a-way, adv., 2, and that-a-way, adv., 2, although the second citation for skice, v.1, is this line in Brome, meaning move quickly; skip or frisk about.

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It's interesting and I hadn't known that the expression is originally British, but I think most Americans associate it with the line "They went that-away" from Western movies. –  gmcgath Apr 13 '13 at 17:16
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That-a-way is of US origin, and the etymology is straightforward, the term being a combination of that and away. In the sense ‘in that direction’, the OED’s earliest citation is from 1839. This-a-way, meaning ‘in this manner or respect’, is first recorded five years earlier.

EDIT: Hugo's answer trumps mine.

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Take a look at the answer below. –  Robusto Apr 13 '13 at 14:46
    
@Robusto. Yes, looks like a previous use. OP may like to transfer the acceptance. Is that possible? –  Barrie England Apr 13 '13 at 15:08
    
Of course. He just unaccepts yours and accepts Hugo's. Whether he will or not is up to him. –  Robusto Apr 13 '13 at 15:22
    
Who am I to disagree? –  Urbycoz Apr 15 '13 at 8:41
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