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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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To Blame, to Thank, and Others?
[I just posted this in the linguaphiles community, but it may interest some here.]

I've been trying to think of other contemporary English constructions that work like "to blame" in the sentence, "Who is to blame for this mess?" - where there is an implied passive (i.e. "who is to be blamed?").

So far, I can't think of any good examples. The nearest I've got is "to thank", albeit it sounds a little archaic: "Who is to thank for this mess?"

Interestingly, while this sounds semi-acceptable where "thank" acts as an ironic synonym for "blame", as in the above example, to my ear it sounds less so when used unironically: "Who is to thank for the lovely bouquet I found on my desk this morning?" This leads me to wonder whether its semi-acceptability in the negative example derives from a kind of semantic resonance with "to blame".

Anyway, I'd be interested in further examples or thoughts on this in general.

I was once reading "Blame Hitler" on holiday, and our Turkmen guide asked for an explanation of blame, which i found surprisingly difficult. Somewhere between assigning fault, and whose responsibility it is, but I hadn't thought of it in the construction sense as you have.

Slightly old fashioned, but who is to seek, who is to find, who is to introduce . . .

Oh, you've just made me realise that there's "What's to eat/drink for supper?"

What's to be done?

Indeed - and there are others on those lines. So one might see "Who's to blame"" as a shortened version of "Who is there to blame?", by analogy with such phrases.

So one might see "Who's to blame"" as a shortened version of "Who is there to blame?", by analogy with such phrases.

Now I'm trying to diagram the phrase "What's to become of . . ." and frankly I have no idea, syntactically, what's going on there. My English grammar is a lot worse than my Latin.

"What's to become of . . ."

A whole new can of worms!

A whole new can of worms!

It's not quite interchangeable with the straightforward future: "What will become of me?" is a different question, just as "Who's to blame for this mess?" is not the same as "Who will be blamed . . ." The first is trying to identify actual responsibility for the chaos; the second might just point to the luckless innocent who'll get stuck with cleaning it up. There's an organizational quality to the to-construction. "What's to be done?" and "What's to drink?" are both asking for the range of available options. And I'm still trying to figure out how all of this fits with expressions like the contrafactual "I was to have been at the opera that night (but instead I stayed home with a cold)."

I can't shake the feeling that if I knew what this construction was called, I could look it up quite easily. As it is, I'm sort of flailing around from first principles.

[edit] This looks like some of it!

Edited at 2016-08-18 07:28 pm (UTC)

I, too, find 'who is to thank...' a bit awkward. But 'you have me to thank for your promotion...' sounds OK - possibly because the whole statement is consistently archaic / pompous...

Yes, it's a bit of a set phrase, isn't it? They're often the amber in which archaic forms are preserved.

Kind of a reciprocity here: "X is the one to see about passports." X here is both seeing and seen.

Not to mention, "Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink."


Tautology masquerading as ambiguity, forsooth!

Both of those make sense to me: they're just a kind of telescoped relative clause with the infinitive standing in for most of the stuff in the clause itself. "The one to see about passports" is tighter than "the one whom a person should see about passports."

Anyway, I'd be interested in further examples or thoughts on this in general.

What's to do?

Nice one!

Nice one!

If you turn this into an article, you should call it "Who's to Say?"

There are also the "for" constructions, like "Who's for a dip?" or "Anyone for tennis?"

I just heard Inspector Morse say "Nobody is to leave." and thought of this post. It's in series 2, episode 3, The Settling of the Sun.

But there's no implied passive there.

I think the canonical example of this sort of thing is easy to please vs. eager to please. "I was surprised that John, who is eager to please, disappointed Mary, who is easy to please."

Who is to congratulate for ...?