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“We’re just happy our little girl is alive,” said Jessica’s father, Michael Paulsen, as though the state of being alive were itself a sufficient cause for happiness and not a prison of its own, at least in a phenomenological sense

I read this paragraph on the Onion News. I wonder, why were is used as the linking verb instead of was in the part of the sentence "... as though the state of being alive were itself a sufficient cause for..." ?

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    It's an irrealis, because the author is pretending to adopt a philosophical perspective which denies the notion that being alive is a sufficient cause for happiness -- this is The Onion, after all. Commented Nov 9, 2013 at 15:32
  • @StoneyB ahhh irrealis. That's the answer of my unasked questions, I realized that after checking wikipedia on irrealis. Thank you!
    – Yirmidokuz
    Commented Nov 9, 2013 at 15:46
  • @Yirmidokuz: Don't feel bad about not understanding the usage. The Subjunctive Is Dead! Long Live the Subjunctive! I don't know if the parenthetical remark in that link is true, but it says English speakers (particularly speakers of British English) tend to avoid the subjunctive and use the conditional instead. Commented Nov 9, 2013 at 19:12
  • @FumbleFingers That's why I call it irrealis. But the subjunctive isn't dead, it's just lying in ambush. Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 1:47
  • @StoneyB: I used to assume English was somehow "advancing" by dispensing with so many verb forms and other inflections. But (unless I've misunderstood him) John Lawler says all languages tend to cycle between high/low levels of inflection, so language evolution is really just the same as the biological kind. No particular manifestation is meaningfully more advanced than another - all organisms and languages are what they are by happenstance of prior history, and are all (on average) adequate for their required functionality. Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 3:23

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The father is said to speak “as though the state of being alive were itself a sufficient cause for happiness” because the author of the article is affecting to regard the proposition that “the state of being alive is itself a sufficient cause for happiness” as obviously untrue. This is a standard irrealis use of the past form, which you have probably encountered in conditional constructions:

If happiness were itself a sufficient cause for happiness, then Jessica’s father would be justified in his statement.

The author wishes us to understand that (in his opinion) the state of being alive is not itself a sufficient cause for happiness. On the contrary, the state of being alive is (again, in the author’s opinion) “a prison of its own, at least in a phenomenological sense”.

I hope I need not say (but plagued as we are by the ineluctable anti-intellectualism and philosophical naïveté of the popular press and of so-called ‘democratic’ education, I feel I must) that this is intended (albeit meretriciously and by way of an inauthentic and false-conscious ressentiment) satirically.

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