...was the best thing that could have happened to...

JungKim

Senior Member
Korean
A Vanity Fair article titled "Succession: The Real Rich Media Family That Inspired Logan Roy’s New Nemesis" has this passage:
Even the Bancroft family—which sold the Wall Street Journal off to Rupert Murdoch in 2007—was known to consist of some “restless socialites and horse enthusiasts whose hobbies required access to substantial funds,” as New York magazine put it in 2008. Their situation could well have been inspiration for the one Roy family employee Gerri Kellman describes in episode three when she asks if “some of the young cousins” in the Pierce family “want yacht money.”

Murdoch’s pursuit and acquisition of the Bancroft-owned Wall Street Journal in 2007 will almost certainly influence some of Succession this season. It should be noted that members of the Bancroft clan said in 2011 that they regretted selling their family’s paper off, though there’s an argument to be made that Murdoch was actually the best thing that could have happened to that paper.
I'd like to focus on the underlined content clause at the end:
(1) Murdoch was actually the best thing that could have happened to that paper. [original]
(2) Murdoch was actually the best thing that happened to that paper.

I think (2) can be used instead of (1) in the article. Am I right?

What's the difference in meaning between (1) and (2)?

Also, does could have happened in (1) describe a past situation in the actual world or an imaginary world?
 
  • suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    The original is suggesting possible events in the past.
    The paper could have stayed in the family.
    The paper could have been sold to Murdoch.
    The paper could have been sold to someone else.
    Of these three options, Murdoch was the best that could have happened.

    You lose this point in your suggested gloss.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Note I only suggest three possible futures for the paper because they are the obvious ones.
    There might have been more/other options at the time.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    The original is suggesting possible events in the past.
    The paper could have stayed in the family.
    The paper could have been sold to Murdoch.
    The paper could have been sold to someone else.
    Of these three options, Murdoch was the best that could have happened.

    You lose this point in your suggested gloss.
    So you're saying that could have happened in (1) describes a past situation in an imaginary world, right?
    The problem with that reading is, the paper was actually sold to Murdoch. So, why would you describe it like an imaginary world when it did happen in the actual world?
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    So you're saying that could have happened in (1) describes a past situation in an imaginary world, right?
    The problem with that reading is, the paper was actually sold to Murdoch. So, why would you describe it like an imaginary world when it did happen in the actual world?
    Because before it was sold to him the other things could have happened.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Because before it was sold to him the other things could have happened.
    Thanks. I think I get it.
    Let me check if I understand it correctly.
    I think you can use either (1) or (2) in the article, but (2) is more emphatic than (1), because (1) compares Murdoch's purchase with what happened in the actual world, whereas (2) compares Murdoch's purchase with what could have happened in an imaginary world starting right before the purchase. Is this gloss correct?
     
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