Home / General / A deal “that” “you people” can agree to?

A deal “that” “you people” can agree to?


If those on the right stop insisting that the antecedent of Obama’s “that” was “business” when it was clearly “roads and bridges” and sundry, those of us on the left will recognize that the subject of Ann Romney’s “you people” was clearly the mainstream media. Work for you?

Of course not.

As to Obama:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.

Antecedents can co-refer across sentence boundaries in English. They just can. (See what I did there?) Moreover, the nearest potential antecedent to a pronoun isn’t necessarily the actual antecedent. Consider:

The monkey took the banana and ate it.

The monkey became sick after it ate the banana.

In both cases “the banana” is closer to “it” than “the monkey” is, but in the first sentence “it” refers to “the banana,” whereas in the second sentence “it” refers to “the monkey.” This isn’t that difficult people. The “this” in the previous sentence? It doesn’t even have a referent. It refers back to the situation of entire text. Now it’s doing so over three sentence. It can do it over four. It can do so to infinity if I so choose. That’s just how it works. In short:

Neither inclusion in the same sentence nor proximity to a pronoun is definitive proof that Obama’s “that” refers to “business,” and context makes a strong case that Obama’s “that” referred across more than one sentence to a catalog of antecedents including “somebody,” “a great teacher,” another “somebody,” the “American system,” yet another “somebody,” and “roads and bridges.” “That” refers to all that in the same way the second “that” in this sentence does. Simple as that.

As to Ann Romney: the phrase “you people” only works as an epithet when it’s directed at someone. If I write that I’m going to tell you people about “you people,” none of you people will be offended because I wasn’t trying to diminish you people by calling you “you people.” If Mitt Romney had said “you people” during his speech to the NAACP, that’d be a different story. But Ann Romney was being interviewed on ABC News, meaning “you people” clearly refers to the mainstream media so beloved by conservatives everywhere. Which means she might have been using it as an epithet targeted at the mainstream media establishment.

All of which is only to say: I’ve now devoted the last half hour of my life to writing about “that” and “you people,” and I hope that you people enjoy it, because I never want to do so again.

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