Subjunctive – schmunctive


Just to clarify: I am not the grammar police. Not even after 20 years of being a professional writer and 8 years of being an English teacher. It’s too frustrating. And heartbreaking – it’s to show possession, Smith’s to indicate plurality, and their to contract “they are.” There are just no words for it. Though if you were Trumpkin, these might do: Beards and bedsteads! Thimbles and thunderstorms! Cobbles and kettledrums! Weights and water-bottles!

Which brings us to the English verb – 3 simple tenses, 3 past tenses, 6 progressive forms, the emphatic “do” form, and hey, how about that modal trinity of can-must-should – and LUCKY LUCKY US, beside all those tenses, let’s not forget The Many Moods of Verbs (which rather sounds like a title of a 70s soft-listening LP).

“If you were Trumpkin” is a prime example of one such mood: the subjunctive.

Of or pertaining to that mood of the finite verb that is used to express a future contingency, a supposition implying the contrary, a mere supposition with indefinite time, or a wish or desire.

Yeah. That thing.

We’ve all heard it.

If I were a rich man, yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.”

If I were king of the for-eheheheheheheheheheh-st.”

From these, one might reasonably conclude that the subjunctive mood has more to do with lyrical freestyling and jabberwocky antics than with a verbal mood.

If I was. If I were. Does it really matter?

To some people, yes. They argue that if we were to subjugate our subjunctives so as to use them less subjectively and more submissively (in respect to grammar rules) and more subliminally (in respect to rhetorical flair) our speech would more accurately reflect our progressive civility and refinement (or maybe our panties-scrunched-in-a-bunch-ness) and the world would be a better place. For you. And me. You just wait and see.

Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know.

But I do know this: if I were a rich woman and also were queen of the forest, I would be able to buy more books and store them in my ever-expanding royal library, which would definitely make the world a better place. For me. For me. You just wait and see.

Watermelon Roulette

Here’s the thing about watermelon: it’s both the best and worst of summer treats – the best when it’s sweet, juicy, and pip-lite, the worst when it’s, well, not.

Here’s another thing about watermelon: each one is a gamble, a crapshoot, a white-knuckle round of roulette that is just as likely to drape the annual family picnic in a disappointingly tasteless pall as it is to launch the collective tastebuds into a surprisingly savory orbit.

[NB: Yes, my metaphors are mixed. Further, they break all the the rules of “write what you know” for I gamble not, live still, and embrace earth’s familiar solidity. That’s blogging for you.]

[NB2: Another thing about watermelon: it’s one of those weird countable and non-countable nouns, depending on the context. “I like watermelon” is okay but “I like banana” is not. “I grow watermelon” and “I grow watermelons” are equally acceptable (though I don’t). “There will be hotdogs, beans, chips, and watermelon at the picnic” works. So does, “There will be hotdogs, beans, chips, and watermelons at the picnic,” though it sounds weird in the plural. That’s English for you.]

Like so many others, I was taught that a well-delivered thunk on its thick rind was a foolproof way to pick a watermelon. If the thunk rings hollow, grab it. If not, ignore it. Just exactly what a hollow thunk sounds like has always been a bit vague to me.

After having delivered countless thunks with my knuckles to the rinds of countless watermelons, here’s the truth: the thunk test is rot half the time. Some hollow-sounding thunks result in breathtaking deliciousness. Others – last week’s for example – result in something with all the taste and texture of styrofoam soaked in formaldehyde and lemon extract.

[NB: I’ve never actually tasted styrofoam soaked in formaldehyde and lemon extract, but sometimes imaginative hyperbole is the only literary device that will do. That’s creative non-fiction for you.]

Watermelon is (watermelons are?) just about the biggest fruitified mystery of my life. Bananas are easy. Apples too. Grapes can be tested (surreptitiously). Berries can be doused in sugar if need be. But those watermelons (countable noun) are out to get me 5 times out of 10.

In gambling, those might be good odds. At a fruit stand, they stink, unless (fingers crossed) the thunk is a winner in which case the sweet smell of success is matched only by the sweet smell and taste of melon.