[Ads-l] when = 'if'

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Sep 29 18:57:44 UTC 2015


> On Sep 29, 2015, at 2:35 PM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> 
> You're absolutely right, Ben. At least it's "if" in this version.
> 
> But the major point stands.  I've heard the "when" usage a number of times,
> though only in humorous contexts, likely just within this decade.
> 
> JL

Only the "when you're a cat" example (if it had been a "when you're a cat" example, which I agree it could have been) is humorous; the other non-temporal cases of "when you're ..." cases, with "...a woman", "blind", etc. (and with impersonal subjects and generic readings, and no implications of "sometimes you aren't") are serious and entirely natural, at least for me.

LH
> 
> On Tue, Sep 29, 2015 at 2:16 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
> 
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM>
>> Subject:      Re: when = 'if'
>> 
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> 
>> On Tue, Sep 29, 2015 at 1:55 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>>> 
>>> OED when, def. 8a ends by saying "sometimes nearly = 'if.'"
>>> 
>>> Cites go back to ca1175.
>>> 
>>> There is, however what I take to be a recent usage that goes further and
>>> essentially equals "if."
>>> 
>>> Current TV commercial:
>>> 
>>> "When you're a cat, you ignore people. It's what you do."
>>> 
>>> I.e., you ignore people "if" you're a cat. "When" implies there are times
>>> when you're not.
>>> 
>>> Which is never, if you're a cat.
>> 
>> I think you might have misheard that, Jon. Sounds like "if" to me:
>> 
>> https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__www.youtube.com_watch-3Fv-3DKk-5F6-5FVhwijA&d=AwIBaQ&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=wFp3X4Mu39hB2bf13gtz0ZpW1TsSxPIWYiZRsMFFaLQ&m=s0ar5C0SR85JlyznQ3AtNLaMf8t5eKLyhIIbxuXLdoM&s=tcXIfw7l8Mgt5l5Ht_oehLmM_XsvO1TcHmxiEpXMEVw&e= 
>> 
>> It's one of a series of Geico commercials involving versions of the
>> line, "If you're X, you Y. It's what you do."
>> 
>> --bgz
>> 
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>> 
> 
> 
> 
> -- 
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
> 
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