This comes from a classic song "Baby it's cold outside". In one of James Taylor's versions he says "why are you putting your coat on for?" and it just got me because I had always thought you would say:

Why + are you doing that?


What + are doing that + for?


Why + are you doing that + for?

So, is the song really wrong?

  • 2
    It is not normal syntax (if that's what he sings: might it be a mishearing, wha' for what? I don't know). But songs often use non-standard expressions. – Colin Fine Jan 9 '15 at 11:27
  • You know, Colin, it might well be a mishearing. In fact I got the lyrics online. But it answers to say that's non-standard. Thanks – Patrick Jan 9 '15 at 11:35

It would not be standard, but it would be something people say either because it is local or personal idiom or because they switch mentally from "Why … ?" to "What … for?" partway through speaking.

The song tells a story. Is telling a story about people who don't speak standard English without any slips wrong?

(Assuming that it is in fact that rather than a transcription error).

On a related note, the time signature of some early published versions (which don't have that line at all, if I recall correctly) were marked as to be played in the tempo Loesserando, which isn't a standard musical tempo but a play on the composer's name. Does that count as "wrong" or as brilliant?

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