August 11th, 2014

T-shirts

My kids' uncle wears silly t-shirts. One of them says "Fartacus". Today, his t-shirt said, "What if Schrodinger's cat was a zombie?"

Which is hilarious. However, R., my husband (wow, I had a bunch of the R.'s in my life in the room: the kids' uncle, my sister, R.B., my husband, me), complained about the grammar, saying it was subjunctive and should instead read: "What if Schrodinger's cat were a zombie?" which sounded totes wrong to me, but I had a helluva time trying to nail it down.

Well, I have nailed it down. I was right. Indicative conditionals, which "What if" questions by definition _are_ (Please Find Me A Counter Example), use the past indicative NOT subjunctive mood.

Where might you know the indicative conditional in your life? The non-apology apology is a classic example of the indicative conditional. "If I was rude, I am very sorry." Obvs, if you were describing your behavior when you know you have been rude, you'd have said so. "If I were rude, of course I would apologize sincerely!" But you aren't convinced you _were_ rude, so you said, "If I was".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counterfactual_conditional

Here's another way to think about it.

Imagine a person who was rich in even years and poor in odd years. In even years, when she was rich, she gave generously to others who had less. In odd years, when she was not, she saved her pennies.

"If I was rich, I gave to many charities." Indicative! Indicative of character, perhaps, as well, and a really good example of why you need someone to act counter-cyclically when everyone is poor and saving their pennies, but that's a whole other conversation.

Now imagine a person who has never been rich, but imagines what they might do if they somehow magically were (or had been or became).

"If I were rich, I would give to many charities."

If you are asking about the zombiehood of Schrodinger's cat, I think you are going for the indicative, NOT the counterfactual.

ETA: R. says that the Fartucus t-shirt also includes the word "Behold"