I’ve been reading Singled Out: How Two Million British Women Survived Without Men after the First World War. It’s filled with stories that came out of the tragic circumstances of WW1. Challenges I would have never imagined for those left behind when their men went off to die defending them. For a society predicated on the idea that a woman’s purpose was to be married and have children, this was a huge problem. There just weren’t enough men. The book is dense and well researched. I’m enjoying it.
I guess having a text that is so academic (and British, which cannot be divorced from an association with propriety) is why this phrase stuck out so much: “had had”
A reference to the past where you possessed something. I can only imagine how infuriating the English language can be to non-native speakers when they see things like this. Heck, to native speakers as well.
I remembered my first encounter with the phrase so vividly. I was in the elementary school library, probably reading ‘The Giver’ or some other classic, and noticed it in my book. I read and reread but it made no sense! I ran up to my librarian, proclaiming that I found a typo in a book. She explained that wasn’t the case and that having the word in the sentence twice, right after one another, made sense because the meaning of each instance was different. I walked away thoroughly perplexed.
And of course there’s situations where the word can show up even more often. Because of the way it can reference possession, the past, AND ITSELF, there is a way to use the word “had” eleven times in a row. Here’s a widely circulated academic example:
James, while John had had “had”, had had “had had”; “had had” had had a better effect on the teacher.
Confused? Of course, because I look like a damn crazy person right now. But it is correct. Not that this is academically kosher, but you can head to the Wikipedia page dedicated to the subject. It contains this lovely bit of text:
See also – Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo
Now who looks crazy. THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. That’s who.