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I'm not very English literate, but I am annoyed by the use of "that" during the CrossFit games. Announcers, coaches, and athletes all said "that" more times than I can count.

  • Move that bar.

  • Use that hip.

  • Pick up that weight.

  • Tell me about that workout...

"That" is consistently used in place of what I feel should be "the".

I do not think I know enough to even ask a good question here...

What role does "that" play when describing an object?

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    Without some examples of the sentences said, nobody can tell you much about those usages of that. There are several kinds of that, with different functions, grammar, and "roles". Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 16:36
  • Sports announcers tend to have annoying habits like this...the one that gets my goat is the (American) football announcers' habit of always referring to the "FOOTball", as in "They really need to move the football up the field." Normal humans, in a football game, call it the "ball", but I guess they assume we're not sure whether we're watching football or tennis, so they clarify.
    – JeffSahol
    Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 17:33
  • A related annoyance is the use of that to assume a position of greater familiarity with the reader than is objectively justified. This tactic, which is especially popular with advertisers, commonly takes the form of expressions like "We'll help you find that special gift for that special someone." To me it reeks of presumption, avarice, and cloying mendacity.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 0:44

2 Answers 2

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That, as used in your examples, is used as a determiner. Particularly, it is a demonstrative determiner, modifying the following noun. They are used to demonstrate the identity of the thing referenced by the following noun.

There are four demonstrative determiners in english: this, that, these and those. They are used to demonstrate things in physical place: near and far, a singular item or many. It's very grammatical and common to use them.

There are a couple cases in your examples where you could argue it isn't necessary to use a determiner. Instead of tell me about that workout, I would probably say tell me about your workout. Instead of use that hip, one might say use your hip or use the hip since it's unnecessary to specify which hip to use.

I suspect it isn't the word itself that gets tiresome, but the strident tone of the announcer and an over-emphasis of the word: use THAT hip, pick up THAT weight…

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  • Well, yes, there's that that. But there are at least as many cases of complementizer that (as in I think that he's tired), and that that is not a determiner at all, but an auxiliary particle marking a finite subordinate clause, the same way to marks an infinitive subordinate clause. Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 16:35
  • @JohnLawler Agreed, there are other thats. I was addressing the particular that in the examples given in CrossFit games which all seemed to be determiners. I'll rephrase.
    – ghoppe
    Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 16:43
  • I have no idea what CrossFit games are, and certainly couldn't tell from the OQ. Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 17:02
  • CrossFit is a type of fitness. From Wikipedia: “CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program designed to help people gain a broad and general fitness. CrossFit programming concentrates on constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity to achieve overall physical fitness”. ‘That’ is unambiguously a determiner in all the examples given by the asker, so I think it’s safe to make the assumption ghoppe did. Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 17:47
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    The implicit answer here to the title question is that using 'that' in that manner is perfectly grammatical, even when used over and over. Repetition does not make something ungrammatical. It may however by stylistically grating, but it is not incorrect or poor grammar.
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 2:13
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That is indeed a demonstrative determiner. We often use these useful words to make it clear to listeners which of several things or groups of things we are referring to (i.e. This wrench here on the bench is mine, but that wrench on the floor is Brian's).

But in your example - during a CrossFit session - it has more than just a grammatical purpose; it is designed to give emphasis. I can imagine the situation well (and correct me if I'm wrong): the annoyingly energetic (and fit) trainer is encouraging the trainees, hurling imperatives such as "move that bar" and "use that hip," as you've listed.

Why a demonstrative determiner in these cases instead of a possessive (move your hip) or an article (move the bar), both of which seem clear, logical, and more common in everyday speech?

There are parallels in the realms of admonishment, consternation, surprise, and other emotions:

Dad to his kids: "Stop that fighting!" Police to Mr. Armed-and-dangerous: "Put down that gun, now!" Sally, sitting up in bed, to Burt: "What's that noise?"

In every case - yours included - I think that is used not because it's the only possible option, but because it conveys emotional power and emphasis. And why does it do this? Perhaps because in spoken English sentences we normally stress demonstrative determiners but we do not stress articles or possessives.

To test this, try saying "Stop that fighting!" as if to your bickering children, with stress on every word. Then try saying "Stop the fighting!" with stress on every word. In my mouth and ear, the latter feels and sounds unnatural...

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  • "Stop fighting!" with the stress on fighting is equally efficacious, although it doesn't work in the OP's case, Use hip!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 4:01
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    You're right. And I like that: "Use hip!" And Sally, sitting up in bed and becoming philosophical, to Burt: "What's noise?"
    – Rusty Tuba
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 5:22
  • Good examples to illustrate why that is useful and is sometimes much preferable to the article "the".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 5:28

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