Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Subjunctive pair

I ran across this today in a 1931 novel, The Penguin Pool Murders:
Miss Withers realized that she was getting to be an insider, for she could recognize a plain-clothes man a block away. Whenever one sees a man who looks as if he had a trade, but weren't working at it, and a man who hangs about as if he had a place to go ifhe only wanted to, that man is a detective, she told herself.
Granted, Miss Withers is the kind of person who corrects "That charge is not as serious as the one we want him for" to "the one for which we want him," but that "weren't working at it" sounds flat-out weird to me.

He looks as if he had a job and were on his way to it isn't as weird, for some reason, but honestly, all that distance between the if he and were makes the verb sound very bad - and the n't makes it worse to the ear.

3 Comments:

At 1:32 PM, May 22, 2013 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

Another thing:

"Whenever one sees a man who [...], and a man who [...]"

My initial reading was that Miss Withers was seeing TWO men. If only one man is meant, shouldn't the conjunction be "or" rather than "and"?

 
At 1:39 PM, May 22, 2013 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

I think using 'and' that way was more common 100 years ago (when she'd have gone to school, since she's 40 in the book).

Sort of like "He's a man who is honest and a man who is reliable".

 
At 5:02 PM, May 22, 2013 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

Perhaps, if the same man can "look[] as if he had a trade, but weren't working at it, and [simultaneously] hang[] about as if he had a place to go..." -- but I inferred that Miss Withers found these to be mutually exclusive.

 

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