Does the English language make sense? by mattsteinglass
October 14, 2009, 2:28 am
Filed under: Language

Lately I’ve noticed that I’ll be reading along and will come across some grammatical structure in English that seems to me to be flawed. It seems to contain open referents, or referents that are opened once but closed twice, or whatever. I look it over and conclude that it seems to be idiomatically correct, but somehow I can’t shake the sense that it’s grammatically wrong. Or perhaps the other way around. Try this, for instance:

The equations work just as well, Dr. Nielsen and others point out, if the boundary conditions specify a condition in the future (the apple on your head) instead of in the past, as long as the fundamental laws of physics are reversible, which most physicists believe they are.

“Which most physicists believe they are”? Why “which”? If you put in a period, you wouldn’t need the “which”. Or why not drop “they are”? Thinking about it, obviously, the “which” refers to “reversible”. But on first reading, this seems to me more like a David Foster Wallace “which”, one that refers loosely to the entirety of what’s gone before in an idiomatic but non-grammatical and somewhat Southern fashion.


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