by David Safier
Let's have some fun with pronouns and antecedents.
In a recent speech, President Obama said, "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." Romney has cynically turned those words into the center of his campaign. But, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, Obama's statement hinges on what the meaning of the word "that" is.
"Look at that!" The exclamation means nothing unless you can see the person who said it pointing at a beautiful sunset over the mountains or a horrific car wreck on the highway. The pronoun "that" is a pointing word. Either it's accompanied by the physical act of pointing, or it points back to its antecedent in a statement.
Taking Obama's words out of context, "that" seems to point back to "business." In the context of Obama's whole statement, however, "that" points back to the teachers who helped business people learn the skills that allowed them to succeed as well as the roads and bridges that are vital for businesses to exist, both serving as examples of the ways society as a whole helps people create their businesses.
Replace the two pronouns "that" and "somebody" with their antecedents, and the sentence would read, "If you've got a business, you didn't build the roads and bridges which are vital to your success. Other people in this great country of ours helped pay for those roads and bridges, and they were also the teachers who gave you the skills you needed to succeed."
Unfortunately, the pronoun-free statement I constructed is poetry-free as well. It's clunky and uninspiring. That's one of the reasons our language affords us options, like the ability to substitute pronouns for people, places, things and ideas -- to help our language and our ideas flow more smoothly.
The Obama campaign has created a short video eviscerating Romney's attack and exposing him for the purposeful liar he is. You can watch the video below the fold.