Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The forty-five list: subjunctives and the call of the frogman

41. The barest shelf in the cupboard of English language is the dusty one reserved for subjunctives. As a result our imaginations have gone hungry. The subjunctive mood, used to express attitudes and counterfactuals, has almost disappeared entirely from English, hanging on only in such phrases as "If I were a frogman" or "Had I gone to frogman college and become a frogman, I should be happy now" or "I demand that he give me the frogman costume and afford me due satisfaction on all frogman counts". With the subjunctive we witness language's finest hour, an inbuilt resource to the construction and habitation of imaginary worlds, opportunities to plot alternatives and live, if only in the mind, as frogmen.

42. Possible frogman examples to which we can all aspire: swimming - publishing - dissenting - just being

43. But by the Jesus don't you run afoul of this seedy bunch if you choose to be the frogman of your subjunctive dreams. I mean, check out the pose of the large frog. And then roll your mouse over it a few times. That's what they're about, oh yes.

44. Enough of the subjunctive. It has led me down a path strewn with the bodies of possible frogmen (maybe this is what the guy who made up English worried about when he was putting in the subjunctive mood, which would explain its paucity).

45. Really, that's enough.


Anonymous said...

e.e. cummings - here is little Effie's head

here is little Effie's head
whose brains are made of gingerbread
when judgment day comes
God will find six crumbs

stooping by the coffinlid
waiting for something to rise
as the other somethings did-
you imagine his surprise

bellowing through the general noise
Where is Effie who was dead?
-to God in a tiny voice,
i am may the first crumb said

whereupon its fellow five
crumbs chuckled as if they were alive
and number two took up the song
might i'm called and did no wrong

cried the third crumb, i am should
and this is my little sister could
with our big brother who is would
don't punish us for we were good;

and the last crumb with some shame
whispered unto God, my name
is must and with the others i've
been Effie who isn't alive

just imagine it I say
God amid a monstrous din
watch your step and follow me
stooping by Effie's little, in

(want a match or can you see?)
which the six subjective crumbs
twitch like mutilated thumbs;
picture His peering biggest whey

coloured face on which a frown
puzzles, but I know the way-
(nervously Whose eyes approve
the blessed while His ears are crammed

with the strenuous music of
the innumerable capering damned)
-staring wildly up and down
the here we are now judgment day

cross the threshold have no dread
lift the sheet back in this way
here is little Effie's head
whose brains are made of gingerbread

palinode said...

That is one imaginative motherfucking take on the subjunctive. Notice, though, Cummings' fear of dealing with the frogman issue. It opens up some intriguing questions.