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If

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If

Postby Dr. Goodword » Sun Jan 05, 2014 9:51 pm

• if •


Pronunciation: if • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Conjunction, noun

Meaning: 1. Conditional (unlikely) situation, should: If I were you, I'd apologize. 2. Granting that, accepting that: If she blabs, we're all in deep trouble. 3. On the condition that: I will go only if you go. 4. Even though, though: an attractive if naive girl. 5. In exclamations, it indicates a better circumstance: If only I had never met Phil Anders! 6. Whether, introducing a subordinate question: Ask if she does windows.

Notes: This is perhaps the smallest word carrying such a large amount of semantic freight. I don't know why it hasn't collapsed under the weight of it all. If may also be used as a noun, as in phrases like "no ifs or ands", and "no ifs, ands, or buts". It has also been used as a verb, as in "no iffing about". The adjective iffy "doubtful" also comes from this word, as well as the noun from it, iffiness.

In Play: Examples of each meaning of today's Good Word were presented alongside in the definition; however, a few more won't harm us: "If I were you, I wouldn't smoke when fueling my car." If is present in many English idioms, like this one: "If ands and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas."

Word History: Today's tiny Good Word goes back to a case form of Old High German iba "condition, stipulation, doubt". In Old English gif we see that an initial consonant might have been involved, though it isn't confirmed in Old Saxon ef. In Old Norse, if was a noun meaning "doubt, hesitation", whence the verb ifa or efa "to doubt". In Modern Swedish it is also a noun, jäv "exception, challenge". Speculation has it that the English conjunction originated as a case form of a noun (iba) which originally meant "on condition (of), on the stipulation (that)". (If Sally Dunkerly, 15, from somewhere in Australia had not seen the interesting aspects of this word and recommended it, you would not be reading it as today's Good Word. Read her lovely letter in the Language Blog.)
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Re: If

Postby wsodonnell2 » Mon Jan 06, 2014 12:44 pm

Most famous ifs of all:
"The terrible ifs accumulate."
--- Churchill, on the First Battle of the Marne
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Re: If

Postby LukeJavan8 » Mon Jan 06, 2014 7:23 pm

Most inspiring. And I would not say 'lazy', she took the time
to write, and that takes inspiration. Congratulations, Doc.
And hopefully welcome to Sally.
-----please, draw me a sheep-----
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Re: If

Postby Perry Lassiter » Mon Jan 06, 2014 10:04 pm

I Enjoyed Sally's question and the doc's answer. I also feel she would enjoy the agora.

In New Testament Greek, conditional sentences are mind blowing. Scholars will argue all day over the type of condition, which sometimes makes little difference but at other times can alter the whole meaning of a sentence.

I wonder whether the variety of conditional sentences in other languages make that much difference. Most of the time in English we understand what the writer is saying. I wonder whether it is the fact that many people consider the New Testament a sacred book that makes it so important to get it exactly right?

It's also possible that the concern comes from reading a foreign language to which we are not native. Ancient Greek and Latin are no one's daily language anymore.
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Re: If

Postby call_copse » Tue Jan 07, 2014 8:54 am

A lovely story, thanks.

Indeed many would claim that my entire career (as a programmer) is built upon that one single word 'if' - all computer based logic is clearly derived from a simple if x then do a else do b construct.
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Re: If

Postby LukeJavan8 » Tue Jan 07, 2014 12:46 pm

And not just programmers. Think Edison and light bulb.
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