would have been = "was"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Fri Mar 2 14:59:17 UTC 2007

The dinosaur example is instructive. Even if the author had felt or intended the homeopathic tincture of doubt that Larry hypothesizes, the context of actual usage encourages the reader to understand the phrase simply as equivalent to "was."

  Perhaps that's how the absolutely unequivocal "was" usages Sean reports originated. Or, for you skeptics, *will* originate.


Seán Fitzpatrick <grendel.jjf at VERIZON.NET> wrote:
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Subject: Re: would have been = "was"

I have often hear "experts" explaining the past use "would have" when
speaking of a hypothetical/generic situation (Flem the peasant would have
lived in a wattled hut and would have used oxen to plow the rods of his
strip mine.) but in making simple statements of fact (the bourgeoisie would
have lived in the towns).

Seán Fitzpatrick
Help the ontologically challenged realize their potential
-----Original Message-----
From: Laurence Horn [mailto:laurence.horn at YALE.EDU]
Sent: Wednesday, 28 February, 2007 13:46
Subject: Re: would have been = "was"

At 10:16 AM -0800 2/28/07, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>We've discussed the chiefly British use of this phrase to mean "must
>have been," but now I find it used evidently to mean "was":

Truth-conditionally "was" perhaps, but with an implicature of lack of
completely reliable first-hand evidence. Less likely than the
sentence below regarded reconstructed dinosaurs would be e.g. "The
year 350 B.C.E. would have been preceded by the year 351 B.C.E." Or
so I assume--of course we might encounter an extremely diffident
author unwilling to take anything on faith, in which case the "would
have been" would be appropriate even in the latter case. Actually,
I'm beginning to think it might be (vanishingly) possible for a
British author to vouchsafe that "When the daggers began to appear,
Julius Caesar would not have found it possible to use a mobile to
call for help."


> 1988 Dougal Dixon _The Illustrated Dinosaur Encyclopedia_ (London:
>Octopus) 64: Big as it was, _Brachiosaurus_ would not have been the
>biggest brachiosaurid. The remains of even bigger and heavier
>creatures have been discovered in Colorado, USA.
> The author, born in 1947, holds two degrees in geology from St. Andrews
> A skeleton of _Brachiosaurus_ adorns one concourse of O'Hare
>International Airport in Chicago. It's big.
> JL
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