July 22, 2005

To subjunct, or not to subjunct?

On a completely unrelated note. The airplane toilet note that's floating around (heh) really isn't as funny as a lot of people are making it out to be. However, it does have one rather interesting edit. On page six, airplane toilet guy originally wrote this:

Seat 29E could only be worse if it were inside the bathroom.

A perfectly good sentence, and a robust use of the English subjunctive. But he must have looked at that sentence and decided that the verb "to be" wasn't strong enough to convey the sense of place that he was going for; "locate", or rather "to be located", would do the trick. And so he scratched out "were", and edited the sentence to read:

Seat 29E could only be worse if it was located inside the bathroom.

This makes me really curious. If his subjunctive instinct is strong---as we might surmise from his original word choice---why would he back out of that and actually scratch it out? Had he written "was" to start with, this wouldn't merit a single raised eyebrow; legions of English speakers have abandoned the subjunctive "were" entirely, much though their junior high Language Arts teachers might protest. But he has a subjunctive "were", and yet elected after some consideration not to use it. Is it possible that he has two different lexical entries for "be", one for the existential form (which has a subjunctive "were") and one for the passive constructor (which has a subjunctive "was")? That'd be kind of cool.

"The Chinese government is repressive---sort of like US big-city police departments, but less oversight." --Michael Kimmitt

Posted by blahedo at 9:49pm on 22 Jul 2005
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