Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It Is Time We Remembered the Subjunctive

Geoffrey Pullum learned something new about the English language today. The idiomatic construction "it is time that noun verbed" is increasingly showing up in the vernacular as "it is time that noun verbs". This particular instance is new to me, too, but I don't exactly see why such a distinguished linguist is so surprised. "It is time that ____ were true" is just a variant of "would that ____ were true!" or "I wish that ____ were true!", which is to say, it's an introduction to a subjunctive clause, one expressing wish or possibility. Thing is, the subjunctive mood is disappearing all over the place, even in its most formulaic extances. "I wish I were ___" is sounding positively quaint these days. Part of me really wants to rail against this linguistic sloppiness, but I know there's no hope. I can shake my tophat and cane and glare disapprovingly through my monacle all I please, but linguistic prescriptivism gets us nowhere. Sadly.

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