What I'm Supposed to Be Doing
We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.
THOUGHT, AND EVEN MORALITY, is tied to language in strange ways.
Last weekend I was driving in the slow lane of the freeway when a sports car emerged from an on-ramp to my right.
He could have slowed and fit in neatly behind me, but instead he stepped on the gas, and cut in front of me.
I had to hit the brake to let him in.
I had several reasons to be irritated—he got in front of me, he set the agenda and forced me to brake for him, his car was more expensive than mine—but only one that made sense: he actually did cut too close to me for safety.
Oddly enough, the reason I latched onto was none of the above.
Instead, I told myself, "the merging car is supposed to yield to other cars."
I justified my irritation with something I read over forty years ago in a driver's training book.
A moment after having that thought, I marveled at my capacity to base my disapproval in something I had read, once, that long ago.
But the next moment I found myself more interested in the grammar of the sentence I had used—particularly the verb.
"is supposed to"
What a strange phrase. It's built around the word "suppose", which means, in it's oldest and most common usage, to assume.
It's possible to see how the slippage occurred—or, at least, to watch it occurring.
Suppose I weren't talking about a case of right or wrong, assume for the moment that I was talking about almost anything else:
|What do you suppose is the reason for that?||What do you assume is the reason for that?|
There's no real difference between the two.
|I suppose the meeting starts at nine.||I assume the meeting starts at nine.|
Again, they're synonymous.
|Your argument supposes that the laws of physics never change.||Your argument assumes that the laws of physics never change.|
No detectable difference.
|They all supposed the meeting started at nine.||They all assumed the meeting started at nine.|
|The meeting was generally supposed to start at nine.||The meeting was generally assumed to start at nine.|
And still none, but remove the word "generally", and:
|The meeting was supposed to start at nine.||The meeting was assumed to start at nine?|
The idea of an assumption is still there, but now there's something else—a hint of right and wrong. We've suddenly moved into the realm of morality.
We not only assumed the meeting would start at nine, we were right to assume it. Anyone who assumed otherwise was in the wrong.
It's hard to say.
The same phrase which, in the previous sentence, merely indicated a fact about people's assumptions has now leapt from is into the realm of ought.
And it's even more interesting that the two meanings of "supposed" are often at odds in reality.
To be continued...