A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Killing the Mood

Everybody who's taken a foreign language has encountered the dread subjunctive mood. We anglophones can pretty much dodge it -- we get tripped up by it only in forms of the verb to be. I learned the rule as "condition contrary to fact" -- you write, "If I were king" instead of "If I was king," unless at one time in your past you really ruled the land. As Jan Freeman observes, “ 'I drove fast' and 'If I drove fast' use the same verb, and we have no trouble telling indicative from subjunctive." But as Jan shows in her latest column, it's not always easy to decide whether you want to write "was" or "were." And then she goes on to spread the good news -- it really, really doesn't matter which you write. Or at least it won't for much longer. The subjunctive is on its way out, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief. (Now if they'd only get rid of "whom," I'd be happy.)

No comments: