I declare if that old Bunny hasn't got quite a knowing expression

longxianchen

Senior Member
chinese
Hi
Here is a sentence from book The Velveteen Rabbit(here)
That night he was almost too happy to sleep, and so much love stirred in his little sawdust heart that it almost burst. And into his boot-button eyes, that had long ago lost their polish, there came a look of wisdom and beauty, so that even Nana noticed it next morning when she picked him up, and said, "I declare if that old Bunny hasn't got quite a knowing expression!"
That was a wonderful Summer!
Could you please explain the meaning of "declare if that old Bunny hasn't got quite a knowing expression" please, especially "declare", "if"(I guess it refers to "whether) and "knowing".
Thank you in advance
 
  • ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Hullo LXC. (Wow, this is quite a change from Lady Chatterley!)
    This thing needs to be considered as (1) an idiomatic expression, and (2) rather archaic.
    Because of (1) it's best not to analyze it in detail: it was just a way of forming an exclamation, the same as (in modern speech) Wow, that old Bunny's got a really knowing expression! The character could have said I declare that Bunny has ... or I do declare that Bunny has ... ~ she just chose to make it sound as 'folksy' as possible by using that unanalyzable if + negative:confused:
    Because of (2) I wouldn't worry about it too much:)

    Knowing here means 'intelligent':)
     

    longxianchen

    Senior Member
    chinese
    I'm happy that you remember I've been reading Lady Chattlerley.
    And do you mean "declare if" was used for exclamation?
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Well, it was really declare that was the key word that 'introduced' an exclamation (or was an exclamation in its own right):

    I declare I haven't an idea! = "I haven't the faintest idea!"
    I do declare that woman is evil! = "That woman is really evil!"
    I do declare! = "Well I'm shocked!" (etc.)

    I do declare if it hasn't ... is a particularly convoluted and folksy-sounding alternative version.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    I see "I declare" and "if + negative" as two separate things: both being ways of making an emphatic statement.

    Ewie's given some good examples of "I declare" (without the "if ...").

    You also hear people say things such as "If these aren't the best cakes in the world, then I'm a Dutchman", or "If that's not George Clooney drinking coffee over there, my name's not Wordsmyth". Sometimes the if-clause is used on its own, leaving the unspoken ending to your imagination (it being any virtually impossible consequence): "If these aren't the best cakes in the world!", meaning "I'm certain these are the best cakes in the world!"

    "I declare if that old Bunny hasn't got quite a knowing expression!" would then be a combination of those two expressions for double emphasis (or maybe just to sound more "folksy";)).

    Ws
     

    goldenband

    Senior Member
    English - American
    The formulation "Why, if ____" is similar:

    Why, if it isn't Harvey! How have you been?

    For some reason we often preface the exclamatory "If" with another word or phrase, especially if there's no "then" half to the sentence; probably, it helps clarify that we're using "if" in a rhetorical sense.

    I think "knowing" usually means something closer to "shrewd" or "clever" rather than just intelligent. To me, it can often suggest that the person is a bit smug:

    "I saw you and Miss Brooks holdin' hands", she said, with a knowing smirk.

    But I don't think that applies here.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    The formulation "Why, if ____" is similar:

    Why, if it isn't Harvey! How have you been?
    That initial "Why" is far more common in AmE than in BrE these days; (we'd be more likely to say "Well, ...", or some other exclamation). But I do agree, gb, that that "if" expression is is very often preceded by something, or even several somethings ... Given that "why" has a rather old-fashioned ring to my BrE ear, I'm imagining something like "Why, lawks a mercy, I do declare, if it ain't Harvey!":D

    Ws
     
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