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Tentative "would"?

Andrew Kaczynski, “Pence calls Assange tweets about ‘Pence takeover’ of White House ‘absurd’ and ‘offensive’“, CNN News 3/14/2017:

Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that two tweets from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange claiming a possible “Pence takeover” of the White House were “absurd” and “frankly offensive.”

“I would find all of that dialogue to be absurd and frankly offensive,” Pence told radio host Laura Ingraham.



I was struck by the vice president’s use of would in that quote. He might have said simply “That’s absurd”, or focused on his own perspective on Assange’s tweets by saying “I find all of those claims absurd”. But “I would find all of that dialogue to be absurd”?

Since I’m always suspicious of journalist’s quotations, I went to the audio:

Your browser does not support the audio element.

Laura Ingraham: um Julian Assange, of course the wikileaks founder, has
tweeted out two fairly uh controversial incendiary things today.
He said that Clinton stated privately this month that she is quietly pushing
for a Pence takeover. She stated that Pence
is predictable hence defeatable,
and they quote two uh sources uh intelligence community sources
who didn’t say that you agree with this takeover but that
uh intelligence community officials close to Pence stated privately this month
that they’re planning on a Pence takeover.
What’s your reaction to that?

Mike Pence: I would find that-
all of that
dialogue to be absurd
and frankly offensive.

So minus a small self-correction, the quote is accurate.

And apparently this is what CGEL (9.8.3) calls the “tentative preterite” use of would, as in “I would like to see him tomorrow” or “They would appear to have gone on without us”. As CGEL explains with respect to the second example,

appear is a lexical modal of medium strength, qualifying my commitment to the truth of the modalized proposition: compare unmodalized They have gone on without us. Would then adds further modal qualification, so that [the sentence] provides a double hedge against being wrong.

It seems odd to me that Mr. Pence felt the need to hedge here, first by referring to “that dialogue” rather than to the takeover idea itself, second by describing his reaction to the “dialogue” rather than characterizing Assange’s assertions themselves, and third by adding the further modal qualification would in “would find all of that dialogue to be absurd”.

But maybe this is just a fixed expression signaling politeness for him, like “I would like to X” for “I want to X”.

 

 


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NinchaMachine • March 15, 2017


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