If you were down, he would rush to lift you up.

JungKim

Senior Member
Korean
This is part of Jon Meacham's Eulogy of George H.W. Bush:
And in his personal life, he stood in the breach against heartbreak and hurt, always offering an outstretched hand, a warm word, a sympathetic tear. If you were down, he would rush to lift you up. And if you were soaring, he would rush to savor your success.
Here, are the last two sentences about a past event?
 
  • coiffe

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English
    It's science fiction. No, let me rephrase that. It's hypothetical. The author is claiming that Bush was like that in person, and may have past events in mind to support his statement. But in these two sentences he is using conditional structures to make an imaginary point.

    "This is what he would have done, had you blah blah blah."
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Then, they're describing a hypothetical past event, in which case shouldn't they be like this?
    If you had been down, he would have rushed to lift you up. And if you had been soaring, he would have rushed to savor your success.
     

    coiffe

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English
    No, this is not that kind of conditional. This is what they call "past habit," and "used to" is more commonly used in these kinds of statements than "would."

    Janet used to sit in her chair and knit.
    She would sit in her chair and knit.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    You said earlier that it's hypothetical. But those examples of "used to" and "would" express not hypothetical but real past events.
     

    coiffe

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English
    Sorry, JungKim, that wasn't a grammatical use of the word "hypothetical," but a day-to-day use of the word.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I think this is a case of "if" meaning "when": When(ever) you were down, he used to rush to lift you up...
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    I think this is a case of "if" meaning "when": When(ever) you were down, he used to rush to lift you up...
    Let's say the eulogy went like this:
    And in his personal life, he stood in the breach against heartbreak and hurt, always offering an outstretched hand, a warm word, a sympathetic tear. When I was down, he would rush to lift me up. And when I was soaring, he would rush to savor my success.
    Here, the speaker would be talking about what actually happened in the past. But it doesn't seem to me that he was doing that in the original.

    In fact, he uses 'you', and this 'you' means 'one' (a general reference):
    If you were down, he would rush to lift you up. And if you were soaring, he would rush to savor your success.

    So I don't think he was talking about a past event that actually happened.
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    We can't tell with 100% certainty that the events described by Meacham actually happened or not, but that's irrelevant. Why? Because this is the sort of man that George H. W. Bush was; it's a given, for those in the audience, that Bush acted or would act exactly as described by the speaker.

    So, why doesn't Meacham say "If you had been down down...If you had been soaring"? Because Meacham would then be referring exclusively to the past, excluding any other time. But this is a eulogy; the speaker is elevating Bush to a higher status, independent of "time." And so in If you were down, he would rush to lift you up and in If you were soaring, he would rush to savor your success there is no "tense" and therefore no "time." The concepts expressed by Meacham are "timeless." If Bush were alive, he would act as described; if we had a time machine to travel back in time,
    we would see Bush act as described. That's the kind of man Bush was.

    And if Meacham had said "When I was down," we would know without a doubt that this was an actual event, but then the focus would've been on the speaker rather than on Bush.

    This is all about rhetoric, not grammar.
     

    pops91710

    Senior Member
    English, AE
    Focus on the words If, were and would. Though they may explain a deceased person's past character it can also apply to one still living.

    EX: I know Harry very well, if you were down, he would help you up, and if you were successful, he would be there to help you stay successful. (Harry is a live being)
     

    coiffe

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English
    to Jungkim: As I think you know, your mastery of conditional forms is quite superb, especially considering the difficulties most English students have in parsing out past perfect and conditional perfect structures. Nevertheless, that isn't how native speakers give undiscriminating praise in eulogies and panegyrics. They mostly use the structures in your original quotation, which combine past events (real or not real) with the conditional sense of "That's what he would do if he were here today. That's the kind of guy he was." Again, true or untrue (which is why I said "hypothetical") -- it's traditional eulogy-speak. "If you were down, he would lift you up." It's short and simple. They don't get into long, drawn-out, complicated conditional perfect tenses and structures. Presumably everybody in the audience is already crying, and the goal is not to increase their anguish and make them cry even harder.
     
    Last edited:

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Thanks everyone. I think I get it.
    I think it's a red herring that the speaker is describing a dead person. Even though that is the case, the speaker is not describing any particular past event or even any general past behavior. But he's just describing the deceased without incorporating in his utterance the fact that the person is dead.

    Am I right?
     

    pops91710

    Senior Member
    English, AE
    I think it's a red herring that the speaker is describing a dead person.
    I cannot understand what you are trying to say. Why do you say a red herring? Makes no sense.
    the speaker is not describing any particular past event or even any general past behavior.
    I disagree. Because he is describing a past event, if you call President Bush's life an event.
    even any general past behavior
    Wrong again. He was describing his character which guided his behavior.
    But he's just describing the deceased without incorporating in his utterance the fact that the person is dead.
    Why does he need to say he's dead? It is at his funeral and it is a eulogy which are both for the dead.

    The author you have quoted read this in its entirety to President Bush BEFORE he died. George H.W. Bush approved of it. He said to Meacham, “That’s a lot about me, Jon.” Another example of his humility.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    I disagree. Because he is describing a past event, if you call President Bush's life an event.
    When I say "the speaker is not describing any particular past event or even any general past behavior", I don't mean that the speech is not about what's happened in the past, which it has to be. What I mean is that the speech doesn't reflect what's happened in the past in the verb tense. That's why it doesn't matter whether you're talking about a dead person or a living person, as you have indicated in post #12.
     
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