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If he owns a Cadillac, I own an invisibility cloak

English Language Learners Asked on January 2, 2022

Does B’s reply sound natural in the following dialogue? Here, he is obviously denying he has an invisibility cloak to show he doesn’t believe John has a Cadillac. Are there any constraints on this pattern? Some people say I should begin the main clause with "I am . . . " with this pattern to indicate absurdity. Is that necessary?

A: Did you know John owns a Cadillac?

B: If he owns a Cadillac, I own an invisibility cloak.

I am wondering whether there is a punchiness requirement on the main clause of this pattern.

Compare the following sentences:

  1. If that’s Princess Anne, then I’m able to fly from Zurich to San Francisco in just under two hours and wenty minutes.
  1. If that’s Princess Anne, I’m a Dutchman.
  1. If John owns a Cadillac, I own an invisibility cloak.

One Answer

The pattern is

if something possible, but not believed by the speaker, then something ridiculous, impossible, or obviously untrue

Examples:

If he has a university degree, (then) I'm a Dutchman (said by somebody not Dutch)

If that's a good paint job, (then) I'm a monkey's uncle.

If he owns a Cadillac, my name is Jesus J. Jones. (said by someone whose name is not that).

There is a similar pattern, where we wish to assert that something is, or will be found to be, true:

Statement believed to be true or something ridiculous, impossible, or obviously untrue

The main clause can be one also commonly used to indicate disbelief. Examples:

(I see a man in the distance) - that's John Smith, or I'm a Dutchman!

They'll be divorced in a year, or my name's not Michael Harvey.

Answered by Michael Harvey on January 2, 2022

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