In the Order It Was Received

I was on hold just now, listening to the prerecorded voice tell me every thirty seconds that my call would be answered in the order it was received, and I wondered what the heck was going on in the grammar of that sentence. In colloquial English, there would be an “in” at the end, and in formal English, it would be “in the order in which it was received.” But instead the preposition was just missing.

What’s going on here? My instinct is that the speaker (or author of the line) is uncomfortable with that stranded preposition, but the traditionally correct alternative sounds so stuffy and wordy as to be unacceptable. Instead the preposition quietly disappears, like when children hide their vegetables or feed them to the dog instead of choosing between the unacceptable alternatives of either eating them or leaving them on the plate.

Unfortunately there’s not really a way to test this hypothesis. After all, when a word is missing, it doesn’t exactly leave an indication of where it went or why it went there, and most people are so unaware of their own linguistic impulses that you could never get a reliable response by asking people. Plus, I’ve found that most people don’t really like being cornered by linguists and interrogated about their missing words. I can’t imagine why.