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“sic” a subjunctive? 
Posted: 08 October 2018 12:31 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Not strictly on topic, but by your leave…

I am reviewing page proofs.  The copy editor added a “sic” to a quotation from a text from 1864.  The clause is in the subjunctive mood:

“If he accomplish this...”

The copy editor frankly hasn’t impressed me.  I have hit multiple instances where I ask myself “Did I write that?!?” and upon comparison with what I turned in, it turns out that no I did not.  I have a dark suspicion that said copy editor would not recognize the subjunctive mood if hit over the head by it.  But in fairness, the construction does have an old-fashioned air to it.  What do you think?  Should this get a “sic”?

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Posted: 08 October 2018 12:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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"Sic” does not necessarily denote an error; it simply indicates that the quotation appears in the original exactly as stated. It simply means “thus.” So marking a historical subjunctive form that a reader might mistake for an error is a perfectly legitimate, and probably necessary, use of “sic.”

And the phrase in question has more than an “old-fashioned air” to it. It is an archaic form of the subjunctive, which currently only exists for the verb to be, and then only in the third person. And even that is becoming rarer. No native speaker today would ever say “if he accomplish this.”

(Apropos of nothing whatsoever about Richard’s post, I’m looking at the Wikipedia entry for the English subjunctive and it is probably the most error-ridden piece of grammar writing that I’ve ever seen. Just for starters, the writer can’t tell the difference between the subjunctive and the imperative.)

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Posted: 08 October 2018 08:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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(Apropos of nothing whatsoever about Richard’s post, I’m looking at the Wikipedia entry for the English subjunctive and it is probably the most error-ridden piece of grammar writing that I’ve ever seen. Just for starters, the writer can’t tell the difference between the subjunctive and the imperative.)

You could fix it.

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Posted: 09 October 2018 12:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I’ve glanced at the Wiki article, and (at least as I see it), fixing it wouldn’t be changing the odd sentence but basically rewriting the entire section. How likely is it that that would be accepted? (I have no personal experience of editing Wikipedia.)

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Posted: 09 October 2018 04:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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This is my standard critique of the “you could fix it” model of Wikipedia.  That works great for tweaking an article here or there.  It doesn’t work for “this article is a complete disaster” level problems, and even less for “this article contains factual assertions that are widely but incorrectly believed to be true.” Add to this Wikipedia culture and politics, where knowledge of the subject matter is secondary to whether or not your edits are accepted.  In the conflict between people who spend their time learning stuff and are willing to share, and people whose hobby is to be a Wikipedian, the Wikipedians will always win a fight if Wikipedia is the ground it is fought on.  It is a mug’s game for those of us who spend our time learning stuff.

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Posted: 09 October 2018 10:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Richard Hershberger - 09 October 2018 04:43 AM

This is my standard critique of the “you could fix it” model of Wikipedia.  That works great for tweaking an article here or there.  It doesn’t work for “this article is a complete disaster” level problems, and even less for “this article contains factual assertions that are widely but incorrectly believed to be true.” Add to this Wikipedia culture and politics, where knowledge of the subject matter is secondary to whether or not your edits are accepted.  In the conflict between people who spend their time learning stuff and are willing to share, and people whose hobby is to be a Wikipedian, the Wikipedians will always win a fight if Wikipedia is the ground it is fought on.  It is a mug’s game for those of us who spend our time learning stuff.

Ultimately, it comes down to references. Every single piece of information on Wikipedia should have a relevant reference from a respected source: it is ultimately a cite battle, not an assertion battle. It can be done.

And it’s probably worth it. I mean, this is the world’s most frequently used reference work.

In this case one author has copied quite a lot from The Cambridge Grammar Of The English Language, but there is also a bit of Bill Bryson in there.

One controversial section claims that examples such as “God save the Queen” are using the subjunctive. I would have said imperative. The source for this opinion appears to be:
Berk LM (1999). English syntax: from word to discourse (New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-512353-0). Berk calls this the formulaic subjunctive.
Relevant excerpts here.
https://www.ceafinney.com/subjunctive/excerpts.html

With your book learning, and my Wikipedia battle experience, we could make this a good article.

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Posted: 09 October 2018 11:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I realise this is not evidence, but I must say that I have been singing ‘God save the Queen’ all my life without ever once supposing I was issuing an instruction to the Almighty.  I have always taken for granted it was a subjunctive, even before I knew what a subjunctive was.

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Posted: 10 October 2018 04:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Yes, the idea that it’s imperative—which would imply it could/should be repunctuated “God, save the Queen!”—seems pretty unlikely to me.

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Posted: 10 October 2018 05:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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languagehat - 10 October 2018 04:59 AM

Yes, the idea that it’s imperative—which would imply it could/should be repunctuated “God, save the Queen!”—seems pretty unlikely to me.

I agree that it’s not imperative, but in my mind the repunctuated version doesn’t seem unlikely at all. Isn’t it still subjunctive, but also an exhortation as in the liturgical Lord, hear our prayer?

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Posted: 10 October 2018 07:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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But Lord, hear our prayer surely isn’t subjunctive in any way, shape or form. It’s a clear ‘(Please) do this’.Note also that God save the King! is traditionally paired, ever since the Old Testament, with ‘Long live the King!’, which is certainly subjunctive - ‘Vivat Rex’ in Latin. Anyone know the Latin or original Hebrew for God save the King! in the Book of Kings?

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Posted: 10 October 2018 08:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Syntinen Laulu - 10 October 2018 07:32 AM

But Lord, hear our prayer surely isn’t subjunctive in any way, shape or form. It’s a clear ‘(Please) do this’.Note also that God save the King! is traditionally paired, ever since the Old Testament, with ‘Long live the King!’, which is certainly subjunctive - ‘Vivat Rex’ in Latin. Anyone know the Latin or original Hebrew for God save the King! in the Book of Kings?

In the form of “God save the King” in 2 Kings 11:12 it is just the two words: יְחִי הַמֶּֽלֶךְ or khaya ha-melek. Save the King or [May] the king’s life be preserved. The name of God is presumed (though Yahweh has the same root as Khaya). The AV renders the phrase in the subjunctive in English. The New Revised Standard version renders it “Long live the King” which is probably more faithful to the actual Hebrew and even more clearly subjunctive.

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Posted: 10 October 2018 08:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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The Vulgate in 1 Kings 1:39 is vivat rex. I can’t speak to the Hebrew. But the Latin is neither here nor there. We’re talking about English.

I have trouble with the notion of the formulaic subjunctive. These are archaic constructions that have become fossilized. God save the king may have been subjunctive once, but now it’s just an idiomatic construction that exists outside the regular grammar. It’s interesting from a historical point of view, but it’s pretty much useless in describing how present-day English functions.

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Posted: 11 October 2018 03:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Oecolampadius - 10 October 2018 08:40 AM

Syntinen Laulu - 10 October 2018 07:32 AM
But Lord, hear our prayer surely isn’t subjunctive in any way, shape or form. It’s a clear ‘(Please) do this’.Note also that God save the King! is traditionally paired, ever since the Old Testament, with ‘Long live the King!’, which is certainly subjunctive - ‘Vivat Rex’ in Latin. Anyone know the Latin or original Hebrew for God save the King! in the Book of Kings?

In the form of “God save the King” in 2 Kings 11:12 it is just the two words: יְחִי הַמֶּֽלֶךְ or khaya ha-melek. Save the King or [May] the king’s life be preserved. The name of God is presumed (though Yahweh has the same root as Khaya). The AV renders the phrase in the subjunctive in English. The New Revised Standard version renders it “Long live the King” which is probably more faithful to the actual Hebrew and even more clearly subjunctive.

To be pedantic, even more clearly jussive, as there is no subjunctive in Hebrew. The verb is the same as the one used at Gen. 1.3 יְהִי אוֹר ‘let there be light’.

Dave Wilton - 10 October 2018 08:51 AM

I have trouble with the notion of the formulaic subjunctive. These are archaic constructions that have become fossilized. God save the king may have been subjunctive once, but now it’s just an idiomatic construction that exists outside the regular grammar. It’s interesting from a historical point of view, but it’s pretty much useless in describing how present-day English functions.

I don’t. Just because the subjunctive mood is rarely used, or is most commonly found in fixed phrases, or unrecognised as such by many of those who use it, doesn’t mean that it’s turned into something else.

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Posted: 11 October 2018 04:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I don’t. Just because the subjunctive mood is rarely used, or is most commonly found in fixed phrases, or unrecognised as such by many of those who use it, doesn’t mean that it’s turned into something else.

I was speaking specifically about the classification of formulaic subjunctive. If a grammatical construction is no longer productive and found in only a handful of phrases, it makes little sense, except in an etymological sense, to keep treating it a part of grammar. God save the king is a single, lexical item, an idiom.

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Posted: 11 October 2018 09:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Dave Wilton - 11 October 2018 04:31 AM

I don’t. Just because the subjunctive mood is rarely used, or is most commonly found in fixed phrases, or unrecognised as such by many of those who use it, doesn’t mean that it’s turned into something else.

I was speaking specifically about the classification of formulaic subjunctive. If a grammatical construction is no longer productive and found in only a handful of phrases, it makes little sense, except in an etymological sense, to keep treating it a part of grammar. God save the king is a single, lexical item, an idiom.

I’m curious, are you also referring to the subjunctive mood in general, because it seems, that through common usage the non-subjunctive forms of verbs are gradually replacing the subjunctive forms. For example: If I were king or It’s imperative that the play begin at once, versus If I was king or It’s imperative that the play begins at once, convey the same meaning. Therefore, why the discontinuation of one form for another? I understand it’s how language evolves, but personally I like the subjective mood-- perhaps it’s the aesthetic tone, which I prefer--regardless I hate to see it go.

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Posted: 12 October 2018 03:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Dave Wilton - 11 October 2018 04:31 AM

God save the king is a single, lexical item, an idiom.

Surely it’s the same use of the subjunctive that one finds in the phrase ‘heaven preserve us from X’ where X can be anything you like; a superficial Google search shows that people are using it all the time. As nobody puts a comma after ‘heaven’, they obviously don’t consider it an imperative, and in any case heaven isn’t generally addressed the way God is. So if it isn’t a subjunctive, what is it?

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