[Ads-l] when = 'if'

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Sep 29 18:38:08 UTC 2015

Interesting, but I think there's more to it.  The subject has to be an impersonal, "you" or "one", to get that non-temporal reading. (Of course, the Geico commercial [it is Geico, right?] plays on this by pretending that the audience for their commercials includes cats, but that's another matter.)  So consider:

When you're a Kurd, you have no homeland.  (No implication that you're sometimes a non-Kurd.)
When you're blind, railroad crossings can be a hazard. (No implication that there are/were times you aren't/weren't blind.)

or take this one, from the web:
"Creativity has got to start with humanity and when you're a human being, you feel, you suffer."
(Not directed specifically to werewolves or teenage mutant ninja turtles who can turn non-human.)

What you can't get, I think, is a case where the "you" really is second-personal and not impersonal, for example when no generic reading is possible. So compare:

When you're a woman, you avoid dark streets in sketchy neighborhoods after dark.  
When you were a woman, you avoided dark streets in sketchy neighborhoods after dark.

Only the latter, with its true second-person subject, implies gender reassignment, sex change, or the like.  I agree that "if" paraphrases "when" in the relevant cases (i.e. when "one" more or less paraphrases "you"), but the tricky part is figuring out when this arises.  


> On Sep 29, 2015, at 1:55 PM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM> 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.
> JL
> -- 
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.americandialect.org&d=AwIBaQ&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=wFp3X4Mu39hB2bf13gtz0ZpW1TsSxPIWYiZRsMFFaLQ&m=8FfPxzccnQrL1CPI-wE2g10yooLwG3S8qHEtLywK7h4&s=ZfDHRgyCIWFjQNB42zMUKp6U50n3ktDBI3sNW3Pq2yE&e= 

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list