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Was or were, right or wrong, not to worry, just read on

On a day not really all that far back in time—22 June, 2009—I submitted a letter to our local daily newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News, the only daily newspaper in the seventh largest city in the United States in the hope that it would be published. An offer was made to publish it but the editor e-mailed me to say that certain parts would be cut out. In an e-mail I told him to not publish the letter, and I chastised him for his response to a long-time subscriber to the paper. What follows is the initial response from the public editor.

From: BRichter@express-news.net (the public editor of the paper)
Mon, Jun 22, 2009 1:34 PM
H.M. – Thanks for your letter. May we publish it? I think I’ll cut all the whining about your letters not getting published when they strike a nerve. We’ll just go with the criticism of the photo in question (which I didn’t really think was so bad).
Bob Richter

I rejected publication because the public editor slimed me—well, perhaps slimed is a bit too strong—let’s just say that he whined me and because of that whining, the same label he placed on my submission, I vowed to never submit another letter to the public editor for consideration, but instead post my whining on WordPress, a far more appreciative audience than the Express-News. I have never had a submission rejected or criticized.

Now to get to the crux of this posting—everything I’ve said up to this point was intended to explain my criticism of the public editor’s grammar in his article that appeared in Metro of the Sunday edition of March 6, 2011.

Yes, grammar—with all that supposed talent he has at his beck and call, he started and finished an article he wrote by improperly using the verb was. The article centered on budget cuts proposed by Rick Perry, the governor of Texas that involved disabled Texans, and much to his credit he began the article with disclosing that his son has disabilities and lives in a group home that receives state aid.

I can readily understand and admire the title of his article:

Budget Cuts: What if it was your kid?

The final paragraph is a one-sentence closure with a wish from him and a question for Governor Perry:
What I wish is that Perry would put himself in our shoes:

What if it was your kid, Rick?

The verb was is the subjunctive mood of the verb to be, a mood suggesting that something is not or perhaps may not be. The subjunctive mood gets really complicated if one digs too deeply, but one does not need to dig deeply, or even pick up a shovel in order to determine whether was or were should  be used.

There is an incredibly simple way to remember whether to use was or were. If the word if is lurking anywhere in the sentence, whether visible or concealed, the proper usage is were, and if if can neither be seen nor assumed, the proper usage is was. Please forgive me for the double if in the previous sentence—I just couldn’t resist it—when read aloud it sounds like a puppy barking.

The article’s title should read, What if it were your kid?

The ending should read, What if it were your kid, Rick?

Some more examples of the subjunctive verb were:

What if the copywriters were better versed in English?
What if the current public editor were reassigned?
Were he reassigned
, would it lower the paper’s ratings or raise them?
Was
he reassigned?
No, he was not reassigned.
Note the absence of if in
the last two sentences above.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Postscript: In all fairness I must state that, in my somewhat unlearned opinion, the public editor’s article was highly cogent, nicely constructed, timely and well presented, with the only exceptions noted in this posting.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on March 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Thee and me, and they and fleas . . .

Thee and me, and they and fleas . . .

The purpose of this posting is to share a comment that a viewer—a spammer—posted to my tale of snipe hunting. Well, actually I have another purpose, but if I reveal it at this point I may lose a few arrivals to this posting. I will therefore hold the other purpose in reserve for awhile. The snipe tale with the comment and my response can be viewed here:

https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/snipe-hunting-a-tale-retold/

This is the viewer’s comment that I retrieved from the trash:

Good evening, Happy Fool’s Day!

Two winkies went on a hunting trip. After it began to get dark, they thought it was about time to go home. They unfortunately got lost.One winkie said to the other, “I read that if you get lost in the woods you should fire three shots in the air. It is supposed to be an “S.O.S.” So, the second winkie shot three times into the air. After waiting for a few hours, they repeated the signal. They tried it over and over, but nobody came to help them. Finally, the second winkie said, “O.K., I’ll try again, but we’re running out of arrows!”

Happy April Fool’s Day!

This is my reply to the comment:

My response to your comment is somewhat belated because WordPress identified it as spam and trashed it, and I overlooked it until this moment. I agree with WordPress—it is spam, intended to attract viewers to a commercial website. However, I enjoyed the April Fool’s joke you sent so I recovered your comment in order to share the joke with others. And yes, your ploy worked beautifully—I’ll include a link to that commercial  site in this posting, just to say thanks for the joke—all’s well that ends well!

And now on with this posting:

I may have been the last person online to be exposed to the joke about two lost winkies firing shots into the air to attract  rescuers. It’s very likely—I tend to live a rather sheltered life, and I am not prone either to telling or listening to jokes that malign others (I can hear my three daughters laughing already). In this instance the maligned appear to be toys called winkies, so there should be no reprisals involved. I promised the April Fool’s Day jokester—the spammer—that I would post the commercial site just to say thanks for the joke.

The is the commercial site for Winkies—enjoy! http://www.winkies.com/

The joke could have involved someone or some group other than winkies, but our nation’s requirements to maintain political correctness should be followed at all costs. However, in support of those requirements I will suggest a few alternatives  for the joke other than winkies, and in doing so I will strive mightily to maintain a balance—to spread the wealth equally, so to speak—I urge my viewers to refrain from using any of these suggestions in retelling the winkies joke—please!

The hunters could just as easily have been identified simply as two hunters, whether male, female or mixed, or as blondes, little morons, Aggies, Texans, Minnesotans, Mississippians, Californians, Floridians, Native Americans, African Americans, persons of Polish extraction, Irishmen, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Tea Baggers, members of various Black Cacuses whether at the state or national level, Ku Klux Klan members, NAACP members, members of the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the IRS, members of ICE, DEA, EPA, NRA and any other of the multitude of alphabet organizations—federal, state, city, county and private that seem to have the ability to multiply on command, Tiger Woods and the star of Deep Throat (she’s dead, rest her soul, but the joke would still work), ad infinitum.

The joke could also have identified couples known nationally and internationally, whether of the same gender or mixed. Some examples would be Joe Biden and Dick Chaney, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison, Hillary Clinton and her spouse what’s his name, John McCain and Sarah Palin, Obama and his closest advisor on nuclear matters, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Benjamin Netanayhu, Barney Frank and anybody, Mutt and Jeff, Blondie and Dagwood —the possibilities here, as in the preceding paragraph, extend also to infinity.

I am including two poems, the first penned by Jonathan Swift, a 17th century writer, and the second an expansion of that poem by Augustus De Morgan, a Victorian mathematician. I consider these poems particularly pertinent (I really love alliteration!) to the relationship between government and the governed in our nation.

Swift’s poem:

So nat’ralists observe, a flea

Hath smaller fleas that on him prey,

And these have smaller fleas that bite ’em,

And so proceed ad infinitum.

De Morgan’s expansion of Swift’s poem:

Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em,

And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.

And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on,

While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.

Special note: You and I are the great fleas in these poems. They are us—you and I and more than 300 million other U.S. citizens. These poems represent upside down pyramids, with government at the top and us at the bottom. Our government and our constitution are moving in opposite directions—government is expanding and our constitution is shrinking accordingly.

In relation to fleas, government is the biter fleas and we are the bitten, and the pyramid continues to grow wider at the top and narrower at the bottom. Let’s face it—we are staggering and bowing under the weight of all those fleas, and unless that weight is lifted, or at least lessened, it will eventually bring us to our knees, a national position that may possibly be the desired goal of the upper echelons of biter fleas, or government.

That’s my story and that’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to both!

 

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