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Pearls Before Swine, as (re-)published in Metro 12 February 2013:

[h/t Eric Smith]


  1. Tim said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

    An excellent variation on the "What would you say to a cup of coffee?" and more interesting than the snappy response to the use of the conditional for purely pragmatic purposes, such as "Would I care for one… under what circumstances?"

  2. Faldone said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 12:24 pm

    What parallel universe did this strip fall in from?

  3. Toma said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

    A negative "care for" can happen too:
    -Do you want some broccoli?
    -No, I don't care for broccoli.
    -I'm not asking you to care for it, I'm asking if you want to eat it.

  4. Rube said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

    I'm still trying to decide whether the pig really thinks the cup of coffee is a family member.

    Of course, he's in a diner, and he's basically walking bacon, so maybe, in a sense, he is.

  5. Simon Fodden said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 12:49 pm

    @Faldone The strip is Pearls Before Swine and it occasionally produces true gems.

  6. Simon Fodden said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 12:50 pm

    Let's try again to get the URL in:

  7. Rodger C said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 12:50 pm

    Then there's the dialectal use of "I don't care to" meaning "I don't mind doing so," the cause of many cross-purpose conversations.

  8. Bob Lieblich said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

    Mrs. Bob still hasn't shaken her habit, acquired in her youth as a resident of the Bronx, of using "Yawanna" to mean "please." It took me only a couple of decades to stop responding "No, but I'll consider doing it anyway."

  9. dagny said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 1:14 pm

    Even brevity won't save you here, as seen in Police Squad:

    "Yes, it is, but that's not important right now."

  10. Kevin said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

    @Simon — I think that Faldone's point was that this particular Pearls strip is not the one that was widely distributed on 12 Feb 2013 (such as at gocomics).

  11. Theophylact said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

    A robass — a robotic beast of burden — speaking in Anthony Boucher's "The Quest for St. Aquin":

    I do not mind. I never mind. I only obey. Which is to say that I do mind. This is very confusing language which has been fed into me.

  12. Faldone said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 1:39 pm

    Kevin's got it. I've been a longtime fan of Pearls Before Swine Unless gocomics is publishing a week late (and the Sunday Syracuse Post-Standard is too) this is not yesterday's strip.

  13. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

    The parallel universe from which it has fallen is known as 'Britain', that being where the Metro is published.

    [(myl) Apparently the UK edition is running 7 years behind.]

  14. Dave said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

    The strip is from January 27, 2005:

  15. Faldone said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 2:00 pm

    Ah, yes. Britain with its alternate reality English.

  16. kyrasantae said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

    Here is the link to the original comic:

  17. Faldone said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

    Pig has put on some weight:

  18. Robert said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 4:10 pm

    A similar misunderstanding occurs in an episode of Father Ted, when he wanted someone to take care of some rabbits in the "Julie Andrews" sense, but the man he was talking to took him to mean the "Al Pacino" sense.

  19. Rubrick said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 5:13 pm

    "Would you care for some red beans and Grice?"

  20. a George said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 5:14 pm

    — voluntary work means you don't get a salary; the only reward is a cup of coffee . . . . . . .

  21. Sili said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 5:29 pm

    Ah, yes. Britain with its alternate reality English.

    I hope that was deliberate.

  22. maidhc said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 6:32 pm

    Weber and Fields (19th century German dialect comedians) had a long routine where he only has enough money for one beer, but he doesn't want to look like a cheapskate, so he is coaching his friend that he will offer him a beer and he will reply "I don't care for it". (Presumably because he doesn't speak English very well.) After he thinks he's got it right, they go into the saloon, but he says "I don't care if I do" instead. Here's the script.

    Then there's
    "Care to join me in a cup of coffee?"
    "Do you think there's room for both of us?"
    which I think was Groucho Marx.

  23. David Morris said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 6:55 pm

    Or someone else:
    "Will you join me in a cup of tea?"
    "Why – are you coming apart?"

  24. Faldone said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 8:06 pm

    Of course, Sili, from the British perspective American English is the alternate reality.

    There was a western once where Andy Griffith was playing the evil ranch owner against the innocent farmers. At one point his goons have dragged in one of the sod-busters and Andy's character tells them to "take care of him". When they question what he means he explains that he means "kill him". Later Andy's daughter comes in and he tells the same goon to "take care of her."

  25. Ian Loveless said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 10:34 pm

    How 'bout some coffee, Johnny?

    No, thank you.

    Airplane! (1980)

  26. Bloix said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 11:49 pm

    What's interesting to me is not the use of "care for" but the use of "would." Why is the conditional used to show politeness? There's no implied "if" – the waitress is standing there with the pot and he's got the cup in front of him. So she's literally asking "Do you want a cup of coffee?" Yet putting the question in the conditional is somehow more deferential.

  27. Sili said,

    February 14, 2013 @ 2:04 am

    Of course, Sili, from the British perspective American English is the alternate reality.

    I was hinting at the "alternate"/"alternative" thing.

  28. BlueLoom said,

    February 14, 2013 @ 8:37 am

    @ Bob Lieblich:

    Throughout my parents' very long marriage, my mother would say, "Do you want to take out the garbage?" and my father would answer, "No, but I will." This was often the jumping-off point for a long and loud shouting match. My sister and I would scurry for cover and watch from the sidelines.

  29. chris said,

    February 14, 2013 @ 8:58 am

    @Bloix: I always thought the implied condition in "would you like X" was "if you had one" or "if I gave you one", since it's generally used for something the person addressed doesn't already have. Clearly, if you wouldn't like a cup of coffee if you had one, then there's no point in giving you one in the first place.

    That doesn't explain why it's considered more polite/deferential than "Do you want X", though.

  30. Faldone said,

    February 14, 2013 @ 9:31 am

    Alternate reality is a genre. I don't think I've ever heard it called alternative reality.

  31. Ireneo Funes said,

    February 14, 2013 @ 10:33 am

    I remember hearing an amusing story 40 years ago featuring the multiple meanings of "who cares?" as its punch line.

    A professor of French literature at the University of Texas who had studied with Erich Auerbach at Yale in the 50's was entertaining a group of us graduate students at a drinks and dinner event.
    His story was that years before in New Haven he had been invited to tea one afternoon at the Auerbach's. Frau Auerbach entered bearing a tea tray with cookies and asked, "Who wants?" to which Professor Auerbach responded impatiently in his thickly accented English, "No, no, [insert suitable German woman's name here], 'who cares?'

  32. AlexB said,

    February 14, 2013 @ 10:34 am

    Yup, its Walternate, not Walternative

  33. Ellen K. said,

    February 14, 2013 @ 10:44 am

    I don't know why (historically) we use "alternate reality" for the concept, but saying alternative reality would imply a choice, which, while fitting with the real Britain, does not fit with Faldone's parallel universe question. Alternate realities are not for most of us an alternative.

  34. GeorgeW said,

    February 14, 2013 @ 11:16 am

    @Bloix: I think I have read that the politeness progressions are:

    Imperative > declarative > interrogative
    No modal > + modal
    Present tense > past tense

    So, 'Would (past tense modal) you give me a cup of coffee (interrogative)' will result in better service than, 'Give me a cup of coffee (imperative).' A 'please' raises the chances even more.

  35. Mike G said,

    February 14, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

    @GeorgeW, I'm curious at to why you classify "would give" as a past tense formulation.

  36. GeorgeW said,

    February 14, 2013 @ 4:10 pm

    @Mike G: Past tense of 'will.'

    I would have a cup . . . (last week)
    I will have a cup . . . (now)

  37. Rick said,

    February 14, 2013 @ 4:14 pm

    @Mike G

    It is certainly common to refer to "would" as a past tense formulation. For example, Wikipedia, in the article "Relative and absolute tense", says (in the second paragraph), "'Would' is the past tense of 'will'."

    See also , which has:

    would is the past tense form of will. Because it is a past tense it is used:
    to talk about the past.
    to talk about hypotheses – things that are imagined rather than true.
    for politeness.

  38. Faldone said,

    February 14, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

    "Would" might have started off as the past tense of "will" but to say it has anything to do with the past tense in 'Would you give me a cup of coffee?' is pushing things a little.

  39. GeorgeW said,

    February 14, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

    @Mike G: A PS. Maybe a better example:
    1. Will you bring me a cup of coffee?
    2. Would you bring me a cup of coffee?

    2 would be consider more polite (in this model).

  40. E McCarthy said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 8:15 am

    Good points. A past tense does not refer to past time only, it refers to things that are not present in the here and now – this could be because it happened in the past, or it is hypothetical or conditional. This idea of distance is also why a past tense sounds more polite in the examples above.

  41. BobC said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 9:29 am

    Would you like to join me in a cup of coffee?

    I don't think we'd fit.

  42. Ellen K. said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 9:37 am

    "Would" is (considered) the past tense of modal will. As opposed to, say "I willed it to happen". :)

  43. Faldone said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 11:16 am

    I still would like to see a non-contrived sentence with would marking the past tense with no help from any other verb in the sentence. I don't dispute being the past tense of will as the origin of would, I just don't see it functioning that way any more.

  44. Alon Lischinsky said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 11:40 am

    @Faldone: this is from the Wikipedia article on Jerry Garcia (first hit I got on Google for "after * he would"):

    After a somewhat disastrous meeting, Garcia invited Phil Lesh over to his home in San Rafael, California, where he explained that after the meeting he would start attending a methadone clinic.

    In the present tense that would be “after the meeting, he will start attending a methadone clinic”. Does this exemplify the use you were after?

  45. E McCarthy said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 12:03 pm

    And what about:

    On a normal day he will spend between four and five hours in the gym

    In 2010, he would still spend about four and five hours in the gym on a normal day.

  46. Faldone said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

    I think both of those qualify. It still doesn't make the would in "Would you like a cup of coffee?" past. I think that is just a little more subjunctive. But maybe I'm wrong. It wouldn't be the first time and it won't be the last.

  47. Alon Lischinsky said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

    @Faldone: thing is, English has no subjunctive (GKP has made the poing conclusively in CGEL, and on this very blog) except for “be”.

    “Will” and “would” have the modal function to indicate futurity instead, and the present and past tense forms alternate just like in other modal verbs: “can” and “could”, “shall” and “should”, etc.

  48. David Morris said,

    February 17, 2013 @ 4:37 pm

    In last night's repeat episode of the Big Bang Theory, Leonard's mother visited. She is *very* particular about the way her tea is made. After quizzing him on about 10 points of tea making, she complains that it is cold. Later Sheldon asks her: "Can I make you a cup of tea?" She replies: "I doubt it."

  49. bloix said,

    February 18, 2013 @ 9:02 pm

    E McCarthy-
    I'm a lawyer, and I was trained to avoid the past tense use of "would" that you describe. Why? Because it implies speculation or reconstruction, rather than recollection.

    Suppose I need to show that an executive, Mr. Smith, saw a particular report. I ask a junior executive:

    Me: Mr. Jones, I show you a monthly sales report dated February 1, 2003. Did you review that report?
    Jones: I reviewed all the monthlies, but I can't remember this one in particular.
    Me: What WOULD you do after you reviewed them?
    Jones: I WOULD forward them to Mr. Smith.

    See? That's terrible.

    Much better:
    Me: What DID you do after you reviewed them?
    Jones: I FORWARDED them to Mr. Smith.

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