We all need someone who relies on

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Chris Moody, "New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez: Comments like Romney’s set ‘us back as a party’", Yahoo News 11/15/2012:

Martinez criticized Romney's comments when they were reported in September, and on Wednesday reiterated that she found them "ridiculous."

"It's a ridiculous statement to make. You want to earn the vote of every single person you can earn, whether they be someone who relies on," she said. "Why would you ever write off 47 percent?"

Whatever Gov. Martinez said, it involved an interesting mixture of "singular they" with various quantified noun phrases ("every single person", "someone"). But I think there's something missing from

You want to earn the vote of every single person you can earn, whether they be someone who relies on.

Normally I'd just chalk this up to a slip of the editor's mouse. But the quote has been picked up and re-quoted, without comment, in at least one other online piece. Am I the one who's missing something? Has "someone who relies on" become a term of political art?


  1. hdp said,

    November 16, 2012 @ 8:39 am

    Has someone relied be far even as earned to use even go vote to do look more on?

  2. Ralph Hickok said,

    November 16, 2012 @ 9:22 am

    @ hdp:
    I was going to ask the very same question until I saw your comment.

  3. Heather said,

    November 16, 2012 @ 9:25 am

    They left off "the government." It seems to be a current talking point that the Republicans shouldn't write off those who are currently relying on the government for assistance. See Gov Walker at the RGA:

    —The Republican Party is not “just for people who are currently not dependent on the government,” Walker told CNN. “It’s for all Americans.”—

    Retrieved from http://www.boston.com/politicalintelligence/2012/11/15/louisiana-governor-bobby-jindal-blasts-mitt-romney-for-blaming-defeat-barack-obama-gifts/CKMQJa7p92PwSc7FXxvYqI/story.html

  4. Pflaumbaum said,

    November 16, 2012 @ 9:47 am

    I was surprised that she used singular they in a subjunctive construction – it seems like a mix of formal and informal styles.

    But looking on Google, there are 17.5 million hits for "whether they be a". One of the top ones even includes a whomever:

    What I find interesting is uncovering real moments with whomever I am shooting, whether they be a celebrity or not

  5. Pete said,

    November 16, 2012 @ 10:02 am

    Very strange.

    But almost as odd is the placement of the quotes in Comments like Romney’s set ‘us back as a party’. What kind of context could cause us back to be inside the quotes but set to be outside?

    Is it just me who thinks this sounds wrong?

  6. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 16, 2012 @ 10:20 am

    "'That unfortunately is what sets us back as a party, our comments that are not thought through carefully,' said Martinez…"

    So the quotation mark was moved so Moody could change "sets" to "set".

  7. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 16, 2012 @ 12:53 pm

    The link to the Yahoo story now goes to a presumably updated version that does not contain the odd-sounding passage. Absent audio of what Gov. Martinez actually said, I think it more likely than not that what she said was truncated at least to some extent in the editing of the earlier story, because it would be odd to just end that sort of sentence "whether they be X." It would be more idiomatic to have "whether they be X or Y" or "whether they be X or not." (Or something that moves the alternative up, like "whether or not they be X" or "regardless of whether they be X.") So if a sloppy edit truncated what came after X, it could just as easily have truncated X (where X was a somewhat complex NP like "someone who relies on such-and-such") in the middle.

  8. Ted said,

    November 16, 2012 @ 12:54 pm

    This is actually quite simple to parse.

    People are difficult to earn, since most jobs pay cash, and the Thirteenth Amendment doesn't help matters. But let's assume that it's still possible to earn someone — call that person Mr. X.

    If I can earn Mr. X, then I want to earn his vote.

    Meanwhile, Who may rely on people. (For example, if I Don't Know throws the ball too high, Who can't catch it.)

    Mr. X may be someone on whom Who relies. Then again, he may not. But Martinez says that doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is whether I can earn him. If so, I want to earn his vote.


  9. Lazar said,

    November 16, 2012 @ 2:46 pm

    @Jerry Friedman: Reported speech can present some prickly orthographic issues – in the spoken language it's easy enough to report even a complex quotation in indirect form, changing person and tense where needed, but in writing it can become a mess of brackets and quotation marks.

  10. Eric said,

    November 16, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

    Since it's a quote from a speech, my assumption was that it was just a case of the speaker not finishing the sentence, perhaps deciding part way through that she wanted to rephrase it.

  11. Not My Leg said,

    November 16, 2012 @ 3:57 pm

    I am inclined to think he may have meant something like "whether they be someone whom you intend to rely on." Meaning that you want everyone's votes, even if they aren't members of your core constituency.

    It could also be "whether they be someone who relies on government services." I think that is a more likely think for someone to say, but in context it doesn't make great sense. It makes sense for him to say, look, even though you believe 47% of people will vote for Obama, you should still try to get their votes. It makes less sense for him to criticize Romney but then essentially back up the statement by saying "look, you should try to get the vote of the lazy people as well."

  12. Ellen K. said,

    November 16, 2012 @ 6:02 pm

    @Not My Leg

    He? The person quoted is names Susana. And a quick Google search says she looks as female as her name does.

  13. maidhc said,

    November 16, 2012 @ 10:40 pm

    It sounds to me to be similar to "would you like to come with?"

    That's common in some regions (I think mostly the upper Midwest).

  14. John Walden said,

    November 17, 2012 @ 4:15 am

    I'm on shaky ground here but I'm guessing that although some two-part verbs ("phrasal verbs") came over with the Angles, Saxons, Danes, Jutes et al, others involve usage dropping the previously obligatory noun that the preposition was in front of and changing preposition into adverb at a stroke. Just like the "come with" mentioned above by maidhc.

    It may sound odd at first but sooner or later we get over.

  15. LDavidH said,

    November 17, 2012 @ 5:11 am

    FWIW, phrases like "would you like to come with" , "he's not coming with", etc are perfectly normal in Swedish (stress on the "with).

  16. Pflaumbaum said,

    November 17, 2012 @ 8:09 am

    I always assumed 'are you coming with?' was normal (BrE) till I went to uni and discovered that people were completely baffled by it. Further investigation (of an admittedly tiny sample) suggested it's a Jewish-background thing, maybe influenced by Yiddish.

    If it's common in the upper Midwest, could that point to a German/Scandinavian calque?

  17. Henning Makholm said,

    November 17, 2012 @ 9:04 am

    @LDavidH: Likewise in Danish. It can even divest the verb: "Vil du med?" ("Do you want to with?") is the straightforward way to say "Would you like to accompany us/me/them?"

  18. Lazar said,

    November 17, 2012 @ 10:49 am

    English also has "to want in [on X]" (e.g. "Do you want in?", "Do you want in on this?"), meaning to want to be involved in a venture.

  19. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 17, 2012 @ 11:01 am

    I have always assumed that Yiddish had a construction parallel to the standard German "Kommen Sie mit?," and that the New-Yorkism was a calque of that.

  20. Anarcissie said,

    November 17, 2012 @ 11:21 am

    Martinez perhaps grew up speaking Spanish, and Spanish has retained a vigorous subjunctive. I have been waiting for it to show up in English. Perhaps this is the moment.

  21. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 17, 2012 @ 11:41 am

    @J. W. Brewer: "Do you want to come with?" is also a Chicago-ism. In Chicago, German might be more likely and Yiddish might be less likely as a source.

    @Anarcissie: Martinez's grandparents were immigrants from Mexico, and she grew up in a bilingual household, according to this article. I'm not sure how much Spanish she speaks.

    "Whether it be X or Y" and "be it X or Y" aren't all that rare among educated people (though they sound a little pretentious to me). Here in New Mexico I couldn't say whether I hear them more often from Hispanics or Anglos.

  22. maidhc said,

    November 18, 2012 @ 4:20 am

    I always heard that "come with" came from German. That's why you would hear it in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, etc., that had a lot of German immigrants. There were Swedish immigrants in some of those places too, so that might have added to it.

    On the other hand, I always thought of "the cat wants out" as a Yiddish construction. Also "include me in". But I suppose a lot of Yiddish phrases are paralleled in German.

    In regard to Gov. Martinez, there was a substantial immigration of Bohemians to the Texas-Mexico border area, both Czech and German speaking, both sides of the border. It had a big influence on the music and arguably on the beer. So it wouldn't be surprising to hear German-influenced idioms in English in that general region.

  23. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 18, 2012 @ 11:00 am

    @maidhc: The OED says "want out", "want in", etc., are "orig. Sc., north. Irish, and U.S. colloq." As they're parallel to "let someone out", etc., there may be no foreign influence.

  24. Duncan said,

    November 18, 2012 @ 1:01 pm

    Re the original topic quote:

    "You want to earn the vote of every single person you can earn, whether they be someone who relies on,"

    As a reader, I'm left hanging, waiting for the completion of the sentence, on two counts. First, there's the question of /what/ is being relied on, that's missing (but in context, can be presumed to be "the government"). Second, there's the missing alternative, presumed to be "or not."

    That said, while I /am/ left hanging, it's easy enough to fill in the blanks if one has been following the news, and if this is actually a literal quote (not a reporter/editor mistake), then clearly the speaker's intent was that the hearer/reader /would/ fill in the blanks.

    By contrast, I can't make any sense at all of the first reply, from hdp:

    Has someone relied be far even as earned to use even go vote to do look more on?

    To me that looks like random output from a spam generator, only significantly less "sensical" than they often (entertainingly) are. I can't parse it at all, and every time I try, I end up even more confused as to the original intent than I was before! The fact that the next reply says they were about to ask the same question doesn't help, as apart from the question mark and the "Has" at the beginning, I can't even parse enough of it to tell it's a question at all, let alone what sort of question it's supposed to be. It. Just. Does. Not. Parse. And the more I try, the less it parses!

    [Shrug] Maybe that was the intent? But I can't even make enough sense of it to tell. To me it's just random words strung together that make no sense at all as a sentence, tho individual 2-3 word groupings seem to. But that only makes the confusion of the "sentence" as a whole even worse, since I see a couple words that appear to make sense together and get a false hope that I can use that to make sense of the rest of it!

    Maybe that's the whole point and the second poster simply saw it and agreed, making the point even MORE effective in the process. If so they've sure proved it here!

  25. ALEX MCCRAE said,

    November 18, 2012 @ 5:36 pm


    I'm with you on the incomprehensibility of hdp's earlier post.

    I say let's just call it sheer "gobbledygook", in the spirit of the upcoming 'Turkey Day' (gobble, gobble)… or more politely, Thanksgiving.

    I'd say hdp's "sentence", a real mind-boggler, is the equivalent of a turducken run amok.

    I read it pretty much every-which-way-but-loose, and can't make head-nor-tails out of it, no how.

  26. Lazar said,

    November 18, 2012 @ 6:29 pm

    hdp's post is a reference to a well-known internet meme, "Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?" It's not supposed to make any sense.

  27. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 18, 2012 @ 10:56 pm

    @Lazar: Thanks. Not knowing this well-known meme, I looked it up at knowyourmeme.com.

  28. Adrian said,

    November 19, 2012 @ 12:53 am

    "Mild lulz ensued" indeed.

  29. John Walden said,

    November 19, 2012 @ 3:21 am

    @Duncan. The"left hanging" depends on whether you are used to it or not. You're not left hanging by "Put your hat on" because you know it's "your head". If someone stops their motorbike and says "Climb on" you know they don't mean "Go on climbing".

    As you say it's easy to supply the rest. Granted, "rely on" hasn't made the jump. But "others" is an easy addition. Nobody queries "I travel around". It all seems rather arbitrary.

  30. Rod Johnson said,

    November 19, 2012 @ 8:28 am

    It can't be as simple that. There's a syntactic dimension too. No one says "lean against" or "talk about" or "sit upon." Some prepositions are more labile than others, just as some verbs are more labile than others. This sort of fine-grained lexical knowledge is just not very amenable to generalization.

    I think there's an additional distinction to be found in your examples between prepositions without an object ("put your hat on") and semi-grammaticalized particles–around in "I travel around" doesn't mean "I travel around something." It means something like "circuitously," just as up in "it burned up" means "to completion" and on in "press on" means "continue." in "relies on"?

    Anyway, I guess that's kind of a tangent. Back on topic (kinda): is Susana Martinez a native English speaker? Is there perhaps some kind of interference from Spanish involved in "relies on"?

  31. LDavidH said,

    November 19, 2012 @ 9:02 am

    And in "put your hat on", isn't "to put on" a standard phrasal verb that doesn't ever take a location – same as "put your coat on", "put your shoes on", etc? I wouldn't think of any of those phrases as implying where you're putting your hat/coat/shoes etc. (Same goes for the opposite, "take off").

  32. Rod Johnson said,

    November 19, 2012 @ 12:10 pm

    "Put your hat on" means "put your hat on your head." "Put your coat on" means "put your coat on your head." "Put your shoes on" means "put your shoes on your head." Duh.

  33. John Walden said,

    November 19, 2012 @ 4:11 pm

    I can see how I shifted the ground away from a verb and preposition whose order is fixed to a variety of other cases where the particle is adverbial or where there's a preposition missing its noun, which is probably more useful than labelling it as an adverb too, though there's not much else for it to be.

    The only valid parallel would be another fixed-order verb and particle where we've dropped the subequent noun without there being an intervening compliment.

    * I'm thinking of.

    *I'm looking at.

    *I'm caring for.

    and I can't think of one.

  34. Jonathan D said,

    November 20, 2012 @ 12:17 am

    John Walden, if "relies" only ever meant relying on others (or if things like "self-reliant" or "relies on his experience" were strongly marked uses of it), then perhaps it would be used like "I'm thinking", "I'm looking" without any proposition. It's plausible that someone might add "on" in an attempt to exclude self-reliance without being specific about the the "reliee".

    In this case, though, you have to wonder whether the governor simply stopped when she felt what she was saying was getting close to sounding like exactly what she was criticising.

  35. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 20, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

    @Jonathan D: I too couldn't help wondering that.

    @Rod Johnson: The site I linked to above says Martinez grew up in a bilingual household. My impression of her English is that it's perfectly native and that, at least in public, she avoids the hispanicisms used by some Hispanic native speakers of English in New Mexico. However, that's only an impression; I don't listen to politicians much.

  36. Just my gut said,

    November 21, 2012 @ 11:47 am

    My impression (as an outsider having lived a decade+ in New Mexico) is that a construct such as this, with the elided end of statement, feels dialectically normal, if informal, coming from a NM Hispanic native speaker of English or bilingual person.

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