Come the revolution...

Discuss word origins and meanings.
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Come the revolution...

Post by BonnieL » Thu Feb 16, 2017 5:41 pm

I saw this phrase today & wondered where it came from. The best I could find with a cursory Google search was that it possibly date from the Russian revolution.

Any ideas?
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Re: Come the revolution...

Post by Phil White » Thu Feb 16, 2017 10:14 pm

How interesting!

I have known that one all my life, but never thought where it had come from. Google's ngram viewer suggests that it emerged in around 1942/1943, but doesn't list any early sources.

My experience is that its use is always somewhat ironic, whether used by supposed supporters of revolutionary politics or by the conservative majority.

Beyond that, I can't help you.
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Re: Come the revolution...

Post by BonnieL » Fri Feb 17, 2017 6:24 pm

Phil White wrote:My experience is that its use is always somewhat ironic, whether used by supposed supporters of revolutionary politics or by the conservative majority.
That's the way I've always understood it, too, but I wonder if it started life as a serious statement.
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Re: Come the revolution...

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Feb 18, 2017 6:18 am

This 'come' business is a rather odd construction. On the surface, it means 'When X comes... [then Y]'. In the case in point, "Come the revolution..." means "When the revolution comes [Y will happen]". Or, "Come October, ... [the autumn colouring is well under way in Massachusetts]".

But this formulation appears to be rather wayward in its application. For instance:

Standard:
"Come Monday, .... [everything was back to normal]".
"Come Christmas, ... [and all the employees received an unexpected bonus]".
"Come the thaw, ... [and the snowdrops are already almost finished]".
"Come springtime, ... [and the daffodils are out earlier than almost anything else in the garden]".

Non-standard:
"Come her friend, ... [she couldn't stop talking]".
"Come the latest news bulletin, ... [and she could hardly tear herself away from it]".
"Come cancer, ... [and few people find their diagnosis easy to face]".
"Come failure, ... [and most people try to hide it]".

It seems to me that the construction works with expressions involving time or abstract processes, though less so with concrete descriptions. However, this appears to be a tendency more than an absolute rule. I suspect that it's therefore one of those constructions whose applicability in a particular situation can only be fully grasped following long exposure to the language.

Or have I missed some critical marker of generally acceptable usage?
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Re: Come the revolution...

Post by Phil White » Sat Feb 18, 2017 3:53 pm

It's an odd construction that has clung on in English and is probably best described as a subjunctive (the lack of the "s" in the third person strongly indicates this). However, it does not fall neatly into any of the usual meanings and uses of the subjunctive, such as the mandative (jussive) "I recommend that he go...", or the hypothetical usage "I wish it were true...".

Although the term "formulaic subjunctive" crops up here and there, it seems to me that there is no real agreement as to exactly what it might encompass, but I guess that things like "suffice it to say" and these "come" expressions could well be described as formulaic.

I think the crucial aspect as to the validity of the expression is time, and not "an abstract process". In the phrase "come the revolution", the revolution marks a point in time, a dividing line between "before" and "after", as do "come spring", "come Christmas" and so on. Before this dividing point in time, the statement in the second half of the sentence was not true (will not be true). after the dividing point it was true (will be true). I think your second set of sentences fail more because of the indefinite nature of the result part of the statement (few, many) than because of a problem with the "come" construction: "Come a cancer diagnosis, he will go to pieces," "come a failure, he will be forgotten".

As far as the actual structure is concerned, many subjunctive expressions permit the inversion of subject and verb and the omission of (usually) a conjunction (be he alive or be he dead). Most, but not all, of these inversions are archaic. The interesting thing here is that the uninverted version "when xxx comes" does not require a subjunctive, and never did in English. This makes me think that early examples of the expression may well have been hypothetical in nature ("if xxx come(s)"), for which the subjunctive would have been possible. Non-hypothetical and past tense usages would then have developed by analogy rather than as a result of any need for the subjunctive. Pure speculation on my part, though.
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Re: Come the revolution...

Post by BonnieL » Sat Feb 18, 2017 6:27 pm

Erik_Kowal wrote:This 'come' business is a rather odd construction. On the surface, it means 'When X comes... [then Y]'. In the case in point, "Come the revolution..." means "When the revolution comes [Y will happen]". Or, "Come October, ... [the autumn colouring is well under way in Massachusetts]".

But this formulation appears to be rather wayward in its application. For instance:

Standard:
"Come Monday, .... [everything was back to normal]".
"Come Christmas, ... [and all the employees received an unexpected bonus]".
"Come the thaw, ... [and the snowdrops are already almost finished]".
"Come springtime, ... [and the daffodils are out earlier than almost anything else in the garden]".
Thought of another: Come what may...
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Re: Come the revolution...

Post by Phil White » Sat Feb 18, 2017 6:54 pm

BonnieL wrote:Thought of another: Come what may...
Ooooh! That takes us into some very murky waters: deontic modality, hortative subjunctives...

All very mucky, because there is very little semblance of agreement among the infinitely wise who juggle with such words.

There are distinctly different readings of "come what may" out there. Some read it as a relatively simple inversion of "what(ever) may come", in which case the "come" is in fact an infinitive. Others read it as a hortative subjunctive with an ellipsis "(let) come whatever may (come)".

Oh, what truly horrid stuff! It will give me food for many a walk with Sheba.
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Re: Come the revolution...

Post by tony h » Tue Feb 21, 2017 10:32 am

Phil, I looked up hortative subjunctive. It was like opening the door into another universe. I closed the door and decided a cup of tea would be a good idea.

I will look again.

It is great that we have such learned contributions.
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With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

Re: Come the revolution...

Post by tony h » Tue Feb 21, 2017 2:14 pm

As for the phrase "come the revolution" this was a phrase I remember being used by my brother and his friends in the 1960s onwards but not with any sense of irony.

It was a real hope or expectation of a political change maybe as far as a communist revolution. It went along with the words: comrades, citizens or brothers and sisters.
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With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

End of topic.
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