Monday, 30 April 2012

To Have and Have Not.

I was SO pleased to have a text of mine published this year in the Winter issue of Ambit, particularly as I feared its subject was contentious: the sickly aesthetic of Lewis Carroll. Anyhow, the piece was published free of any censorious hand ( A Bad Case : The Unexplained Growing Pains of Elise von Alpenberg ), prompting a deal of private correspondence in which I questioned those assumptions that accept there is a classical economy expressed by Carroll’s prose, a feature many would expect of an Oxford logician. 

Mind you, my misgivings are more to do with the sensibilities of an offended preciosity that few would indulge, for my contention is that, though the prose of Alice has, yes, a marvelous colloquial simplicity, it's disappointing to find speech like, 'Oh dear! I'd nearly forgotten that I've got to grow up again!'  

I would have thought that a logician would have retained the perfect-tense auxiliary verb HAVE and dispensed with the past participle of the verb GET. The sort of double verbing Carroll employs with his irritating auxiliary+verb clusters lacks the crystal clarity one would have expected from an Euclidean geometrist and syllogistic rationalist.

 My tender ear would prefer:
 'Oh dear! I'd nearly forgotten that I have to grow up again!'

However, an august grammarian (one the augustest) responds to demolish my theory.

He says: ' "I have got an idea" has a tense perfect-tense auxiliary verb HAVE followed by the past participle of the verb GET, with a slightly idiomatic meaning: normally "I have VERBed" is the perfect tense of "I VERB", and refers to something in the past seen from a present reference point and with present relevance; but "have got X" simply means "possess X". '

How elegantly put!

He goes on: 'English is loaded with auxiliary + verb sequences with slightly idiomatic meanings (i.e., meanings not fully predictable from the usual meanings of the words used) ... Nothing wrong with them, nothing surprising about them, nothing "doubled".'

Mmm. Nothing doubled, eh?  Still not entirely sure about that. 

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