back at the lab

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presl

Senior Member
What does “back at the lab” mean? Does it mean “at a distance away from the lab” ? How do you interpret “back” here?


[Fringe]

Broyles: A computer program that can kill people.

Peter: Yeah, I know. But Walter's working on it right now back at the lab. But here's what I don't understand.
 
  • xqby

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    The word "back" could be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence. It's sometimes used when you're talking about a familiar place even though you're not actually there.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    "back at the lab" is also a set phrase that often refers to a laboratory where some mad scientist is creating something new, nefarious, mysterious or mind-boggling.

    "The police were hunting for Igor all over the county, but he was nowhere to be seen."
    "Meanwhile, back at the lab, Igor was working on a potion to make himself permanently invisible."

    Poor example, but you get the idea. :)
     

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    This type of construction is common in narration: "Meanwhile, back at the ranch", "Meanwhile, back at the lab", etc. Peter is using 'back' because he just came from the lab, and it's kind of their home base.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    This type of construction is common in narration: "Meanwhile, back at the ranch", "Meanwhile, back at the lab", etc. Peter is using 'back' because he just came from the lab, and it's kind of their home base.
    Not necessarily... I think in general you can say Back at the ranch/lab without having just come from there. You're simply referencing it as a "remote from where you are" location.
     

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    Not necessarily... I think in general you can say Back at the ranch/lab without having just come from there. You're simply referencing it as a "remote from where you are" location.
    You can't say "back at" unless either:

    1. You are the narrator and you are switching back to a place that was mentioned earlier.

    2. You are talking about a place that you came from either just now or originally.

    I agree that maybe he didn't come directly from there, but he couldn't say "back at the lab" if it weren't a location he was routinely at or a location the people in the conversation knew or something. If I were living in another country for a while, I could say "Back in America...". I cannot say "Back in Japan/France/Canada/whatever".

    I think there's another component in addition to it being remote from where you are at the present time.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    You can't say "back at" unless either:

    1. You are the narrator and you are switching back to a place that was mentioned earlier.
    Agreed.

    2. You are talking about a place that you came from either just now or originally.
    Well, don't agree. :) I think you can say "But Walter's working on it right now back at the lab" meaning Walter's back at Walter's lab, or the agency's lab or the school's lab. I don't think that Peter the speaker has to ever have seen or visited the lab... he just has to know of its existence.
     

    presl

    Senior Member
    "back at the lab" is also a set phrase that often refers to a laboratory where some mad scientist is creating something new, nefarious, mysterious or mind-boggling.

    "The police were hunting for Igor all over the county, but he was nowhere to be seen."
    "Meanwhile, back at the lab, Igor was working on a potion to make himself permanently invisible."

    Poor example, but you get the idea. :)

    Perfect. As I said, not only professional, but also academic.
     

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    Well, don't agree. :) I think you can say "But Walter's working on it right now back at the lab" meaning Walter's back at Walter's lab, or the agency's lab or the school's lab. I don't think that Peter the speaker has to ever have seen or visited the lab... he just has to know of its existence.
    That would sound very unnatural to me if it's a lab that has no connection to Peter. I'd expect him to say "back at his lab", not "back at the lab" if the location weren't extremely familiar to him. A narrator could certainly say "back at the lab" though, regardless of his/her relationship to the characters in the story.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    That would sound very unnatural to me if it's a lab that has no connection to Peter. I'd expect him to say "back at his lab", not "back at the lab" if the location weren't extremely familiar to him. A narrator could certainly say "back at the lab" though, regardless of his/her relationship to the characters in the story.
    Not to belabour the point -- which is what belabourers say before they do -- but the lab might have a connection to Peter simply because it's in his world of experience. Let's say he's a police officer who never goes to the lab, but he knows that a lot of information that he requires comes from people who work in the lab. Sometimes he gets this information by report, sometimes by calling Walter in the lab, but he doesn't ever have to visit the lab to say "back at the lab" because he knows the lab is part of Walter's world.

    And that's the thing about language, isn't it? What sounds natural or unnatural to us is going to be the result of our education, reading habits, regional location, experience, and just personal like or dislike of words and phrases and usages. (As an American English speaker living in a British English-speaking city, I'm still grappling with "whilst" after 24 years of exposure... and I usually do whatever rewriting it takes to lose it. :))
     
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