Sunday, 6 September 2020

Why were never was a plate of shrimp

Like lexica descriptive of common word use, which include to the consternation of I'm sure many an unwitting prescriptivist of convenience words they'd insist are not words, e.g. irregardless or \ˈnü-kyə-lər\, published grammar guides allow almost without fail (for the purpose of simple acknowledgement that language in use is not something you can disallow for very long) the use of "was" as an alternative to the standard "were" when expressing the present or future hypothetical, e.g. "If I were/was you."

There are many to peeve and become peeved in this life, the least important of which should involve the pettiest of peeves known as pets. [Side note: publishing idea: a lexicon of pet peeves with statistical and sociological analyses. I'd wager a prevalence of personal problems with other people's way of expressing themselves.]

[Trigger alert: the next paragraph, and indeed this one, include upon close reading a micro- (passive) aggressive allusion to the notion that you might not need one of the pills you're taking.]

If you have an unusually, even by pet peeve standards, peeving pet peeve that you would like to get over, consider that, as with the literal pet, choosing not to feed it would do the trick. Even a malady borne of irrational irritation needs nutrition. (Spare your doggie, though. Fucking psycho.)

I certainly won't suggest I am above nursing my bug above myself. That's the point here. But it's also to draw a distinction. One'd do well to try to save expressing one's inner fascist for the times that really matter. Again, to go more literal: As any fair-weather fascist and patriot, you might allow the continuous expression of oppressive means of government until such time as you decide to draw the line.

If I were you, I wouldn't use "If I was you." No, that's not true. I mean "If you were me, you wouldn't."

In the matter of grammar, I like to think of myself as a descriptivistly disposed. It happens to harmonize with a general anti-authoritarian attitude such that you could categorize it as anti-prescriptivist. If one's so spirited, they might go so far as to ban language prescription outright. I'm not quite going for that irony.

Language is relatively simple. Just give me a reason. My reason is not simply the way was and were make me feel respective to one another. The denotation does indeed trigger a mindful response and the connotation crucks me around, but my reason is more than that, if unfortunately for my own private bugaboo at feeding time, it also allows the use of "If I was you", at least until I can work out a metaphysical application that fascions it otherwise.

Here my distinction is strictly 3rd Person. I'm working with the assumption of a reliably known 1st Person narrative of itself, and that the expression of what's known includes the personal hypothetical. Again, at least until I can work out how "If I was you" might connote, for example, that you had embodied my mind for a time, literally, figuratively, virtually, or otherwise. I nevertheless choose, for the sake of its mood and mine, the consistency of the sweeping were. I wish that were enough.

[Did you know that if you shift your left hand on the keyboard one position to the right that "for" becomes "got"? Publishing idea: a lexicon of such coincidences, among a volume to designate others, e.g. shifting the right hand one position to the left, etc.]

It is not enough. Here however is my distinction as applied to 3rd Person use of the 2nd Conditional:

Suppose you're thinking of a plate of shrimp. You are at a party. There's shrimp on the kitchen table. If it wasn't the hosts who had laid it out, somebody else brought it. No matter. Of greater concern is that years ago you'd had a nasty case of hepatitis borne of the fruits of just such a display: uncooked semi-jumbo on a bed of semi-crushed ice. So hauntingly similar in appearance is this one that it affects you as would an apparition. If it were creamed corn, you'd be tempted to ask someone standing next to you if they saw creamed corn on that plate.

[Note here that the preterit "saw" is indirect speech. The direct quote would be "Do you see creamed corn on that plate?"]

The party is neither so dense nor so vast that it would make it impossible for you to notice your friend Kate among the guests. That is, if she's at the party. Did she say she would come? You haven't spoken to her about it. It is the kind of party you would not be surprised to see her at, what with there being mutual friends in attendance, except that you're so fixated on the image of a plate of shrimp. You see plates with shrimp on them, even the occasional plate solely of shrimp floats into and out of you range of vision — what you would call a plate of shrimp.

But the shrimp's no matter. Kate might have come and gone already. After a while of shrimp spotting, you go home. Fleetingly you wonder if she came later, which you find less likely, if a little more so than you'd missed her because of a nauseating preoccupation with threatening food. A gag reflex does not preclude facial recognition. Still, it's plausible that you might have missed her what with the volume of rooms.

The next day you meet mutual friends for a buffet brunch. Somebody says they're thinking of a plate of shrimp. You tell them about the party. Somebody else asks if Kate was there. You reply that maybe she was, maybe she wasn't, and recount your musing from the night before, including the descending probabilities of how you could have missed her, concluding with a personal assessment of your worthlessness as it relates to the question in question. Another person offers, "If she were here, she could tell us if she was there."


Bulletin hindsight - 2020