You know how you’ll just be sitting there and suddenly you realize a song is going through your head? And, in fact, sometimes when that happens you realize that the song has been going through your head for a long time (as in days)?
Well, that happened to me earlier this week. I was driving down the road, thinking about all the things going on. I had to stop at the grocery store; I had to pick up my son from piano lessons; I had to stop at the post office; I had to stop at Target to pick up some COTTON tee-shirts; etc. Then, out of the blue, it hit me. I think it was the word “cotton” that tipped me off. I was playing the song “Dixie” in my mind, over and over again.
It’s such a catchy tune. Even Abe Lincoln said that.
“Oh I wish I was in the land of cotton …”
Hold on just a minute (I guess I should say one cotton-picking minute). Where is the subjunctive? The song should be “Oh I wish I were in the land of cotton …”
It set me to wondering.
So, I’ve always been interested in history and politics. There was a stretch of time (like, the 1970s) when I was convinced that Communists had infiltrated the U.S. Department of Education and, in an effort to destroy American productivity and to produce a generation of children barely capable of tying their own shoes, prescribed a megaton of busy-work, labeled as homework. By spending hours and hours on meaningless homework, we would be prevented from having time to spend on real things.
Of course, that probably wasn’t the case. Even if it were, I spent my spare time watching television.
Anyway, long story short, I now wonder if the Confederate States of America developed / promoted this song (Dixie) so that we all would lose our sensitivity to the subjunctive mood.
The subjunctive (which lends itself to wishes, hypothetical questions, and important / recommended / insisted upon matters) mood as a literary device is another dial on your English language control panel. It’s like the equalizer on your stereo console.
We had an old Harmon Kardon amp when I was a kid. Actually, it belonged to my Uncle Steve or Uncle Tom, but they left it at my grandma’s house where we lived. Anyway, the amp had one dial called Ambiance. I would play my record albums and fiddle with the Ambiance dial, but I could never distinguish a difference in sound. It either didn’t work, or my Aerosmith and Foghat albums didn’t have any ambiance to begin with — not sure which.
In today’s culture, the subjunctive button is still there but it’s getting little use.
Would that that were not so.