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LINCOLN PASSED ALONG `THIS-SHALL-PASS’ QUOTE

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Sir: Please tell me the origin of this quote: "This too shall pass away." - Imogene McF.

Answer: That's from a speech by Abraham Lincoln in 1859, and to get the full eloquence of it we'll have to quote the entire paragraph:"It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: `And this, too, shall pass away.' How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!"

Maybe the sentence really was invented by an Eastern monarch's wise men, but I'm betting it was invented by Lincoln. "It is said" covers a mighty heap of territory.

Sir: A sentence in the newspaper I was reading said: "The couple also has three great-great grandchildren." In the same publication, another story contained the sentence: "The couple have three grandchildren." I know it takes two people to make one couple and one couple is a single unit and should require a singular verb. Why does one sentence have a plural verb?

- Edythe B.

Answer: "Couple" may be used with either a singular or a plural verb, depending on whether the couple is/are thought of as a unit or as separate units. I agree it's unusual to see different verbs with such parallel sentences, but who knows? Perhaps the couple in the second sentence had split up and were fighting each other like cats and dogs. It can happen, you know.

Sir: One often hears "They happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time." Wouldn't they have to be in the right place for the bad thing to happen? Do you have any light on this subject?

- Carl S.

Answer: Sort of. That's a colloquial expression and everyone knows what it means, so the best thing to do is leave it alone. Anyhow, how in the everlovin' blue-eyed world can a wrong thing happen in a right place? It staggers the mind.

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