Now? When? Then? No, now

Now. Here and now. The present tense. That’s where you’re living at this moment.

In the C. Wright Mills comment discussed here (from the brilliant These Truths by the brilliant Jill Lepore), “When Americans talk about ‘public opinion'” is in the present tense.

But then we switch, mysteriously, to the past tense: “they meant.”

What happened? The explanatory little phrase “C. Wright Mills argued” seems to have thrown the editor off — jerked him or her from the present-tense track to the past-tense track.

Two choices here:

  • When American talk, they meanOR:
  • When Americans talked, they meant

But you can’t have it both ways. Except in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (Which is brilliant, but definitely not a work by the brilliant Jill Lepore.)

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