Queen’s English Profaned?

“Voters of color will decide if Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden prevail.”

(Headline to an article by Steve Phillips at theguardian.com, 3-1-20)

There’s only the slightest chance that it should not be “prevails” instead of “prevail,” since the conjunction is “or,” not “and.” The headline writer has been lulled, no doubt through haste, into thinking that the two proper names in close sequence preceding the verb amount to a plural subject. The little words get no respect, to echo Rodney Dangerfield.

The slight chance I mention is in the event that the structure were subjunctive, not indicative. Subjunctive, implying conjecture and contrariness to fact (“If I were you,” etc.), is little marked in English, and most often crops up in high-flown or archaic, biblical-sounding rhetoric. I’ll conjure this example, sticking with the verb “prevail”:

“Yea, though Sanders prevail, yet if he be unbending he shall not prosper.”

Or something like that. Where I locate an analog of this syntax is in the verse from Job that says “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”

I apologize for the weaseling question mark in this post’s title. That profanation is much too common in today’s clickbait journalism. And that’s the name of that tune, to quote Tony Baretta.

(c) 2020 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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1 Response to Queen’s English Profaned?

  1. Eric Wayne says:

    Ah, even I can see the mistake there. I teach my students this all the time: 1 likes, 2 like. Interesting that the confusing is between “or” and “and”.

    I have more problems with the substance of the sentence than even its grammar. As you’re undoubtedly noticed, I’ve become highly allergic to all things identity politics, and perhaps I can be forgiven because I have been dealing with it for some 30 years now (being told to shut-up for once gets old after some decades), as compared to people for whom this is at all a new thing. As a colorless individual, I resent constantly being pitted against everyone else, who are so colorful, as if this division were inherently, and not artificially, the most important thing. What the author really is addressing is how race will be used as a fulcrum to manipulate people into throwing support for this or that individual, who ultimately represents a powerful group of entrenched, moneyed elite who will continue business as usual with mostly decorative adjustments.


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