Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Saturday, 15 December 2012

A case for the Future Semiconditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional

One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of becoming your own father or mother. There is no problem in becoming your own father or mother that a broad-minded and well-adjusted family can't cope with. 
The major problem is simply one of grammar, and the main work to consult in this matter is Dr. Dan Streetmentioner's Time Traveler's Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations. 
It will tell you, for instance, how to describe something that was about to happen to you in the past before you avoided it by time-jumping forward two days in order to avoid it.
(Douglas Adams: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe)
I hope Ed Miliband's advisors have a copy of Dr Streetmentioner's book handy, because things are starting to get grammatically complicated.

Yesterday the Tavern deplored the BBC's premature factual reporting of his words in a speech on immigration; 'I'm sure Mr Miliband intends to say these things, and that his autocue is primed and ready, but who can really say that he will?'

Today we are reeling from the unaccustomed shock of being proved right.
Ed Miliband is under fire on immigration after he dropped an admission that Labour’s open door policy had left communities across Britain ‘struggling to cope’.
Despite the BBC's grammatically definite assertion that, among the other points to be made in the speech, he would admit the faults of Labour's immigration policy, the statement was never made.
He had been expected to say: ‘We did too little to tackle the realities of segregation in communities that were struggling to cope.’
Since it was the lack of an appropriate conditional tense that caught our attention in the first place, I doubt the BBC or the spin doctors involved will be able to handle the grammatical implications of this unexpected omission.

So what happened? Did he forget about that bit or, looking round at his distinctly multicultural - sorry, vibrant - audience, did he decide that discretion was the better part of valour? "Look, it's great that you're all here, but it was, you know, a bit of a mistake letting you in".

Naturally the spin doctors are already out in force on this one:
Labour insisted Mr Miliband ‘stands by’ the omitted section of his speech and had simply forgotten to say it.
Though, to be perfectly honest, an admission like that about an aspiring Prime Minister smacks somewhat of damage limitation. 'Oops, sorry!'  is not what you want from a potential leader in any walk of life.

And the BBC? Well, they are just ignoring the whole business and presumably hoping it goes away - either that or a roomful of editors are still busy wrangling over exactly which tense you should use to describe an event you reported as definite before it actually failed to take place.


  1. Smoke and mirrors? Perhaps I will ask our Bulgarian neighbours for advice. Failing that either the Poles or Lithuanians should do.

  2. Interesting thought; he goes on record as having made the point without actually saying it in front of an audience.

    It's a sort of political equivalent of ringing the doorbell and running away...


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