UK paperback

If I did it

O J’s tense

There’s a peculiar grammatical flavour to the title of O J Simpson’s new book, If I Did It, in which he apparently lays out exactly how he might have committed the murders of which he was acquitted. Weird, because if he were denying the murders, you’d expect him to use a counterfactual conditional beginning thus: “If I Had Done It”. For example, “If I had done it, then the notorious glove would have fit even over my rigidly outstretched hand.” Under what circumstances would you say, by contrast, “If I did it”? Well, it could be a simple indicative conditional. “If I did it, I’m a really bad person!” But I don’t think that’s the sell. Perhaps a more interesting reason you might use that form of words, however, is as the kind of confession that quickly introduces an excuse. “If I did it, it was only because I loved you.” Is this a clue? Tune in to Fox to find out!

  1. 1  Richard Carter  November 16, 2006, 10:23 pm 

    OJ must have subjunctivitis.

  2. 2  Pablo Stafforini  November 17, 2006, 12:26 am 

    Simpson may have intended the title of his book to be read as the antecedent of a “backtracking” counterfactual: “If I did it, I would have to have been convicted”.

  3. 3  Steven  November 17, 2006, 1:19 am 

    Ah yes, that’s another good possibility. I suppose the implied continuation is: “And I wasn’t convicted, so I can’t have done it!” Clever.

  4. 4  Sohail  November 17, 2006, 6:13 am 

    There’s of course a much simpler explanation. Not everyone uses (nor sees the need to use) Standard English grammar as taught at school. Shakespeare’s English certainly didn’t conform to the rules that the guardians of “proper” modern day English usage want to ram down our throats.

    Moreover, this is not just a problem in English. In many of the Romance languages, many speakers are lazy about conjugating the subjunctive mood in both written and spoken forms. This is certainly true in Italian. So many Italians can be heard saying scandalous things like:

    “Se ho fatto…” instead of “Se avessi fatto..”.

    Note also that a great many languages don’t have grammatical inflexions for expressing the distinction between the indicative and subjunctive. It’s not like it’s some kind of linguistic universal!

    In short, OJ’s use of English is more likely to be a case of “poor” verb conjugation. It’s like if “If I done it…”.

  5. 5  Mike  November 17, 2006, 1:52 pm 

    There’s of course a much simpler explanation. Not everyone uses (nor sees the need to use) Standard English grammar as taught at school. Shakespeare’s English certainly didn’t conform to the rules that the guardians of “proper” modern day English usage want to ram down our throats.


    There’s a difference between someone who knows the proper use of the language but, for aesthetics or effect occasionally violates the rules, and someone who hasn’t a fucking clue — as is the case with most people who supposedly speak English.

    And now, having lit — or at least blown on — the fuse that will turn this thread into a hopeless morass of English usage arguments, I depart.

  6. 6  Sohail  November 17, 2006, 3:00 pm 


    The kick ’em in the nuts and run like hell strategy is of course indicative of a poorly formulated argument. Regarding Shakespeare, (if this is what triggered your ire) I was never referring to “aesthetics” nor was I referring to instances of “poetic licence”. I was actually talking about his straightforward usage of English.

  7. 7  Sohail  November 17, 2006, 3:07 pm 

    Hang on… I meant to say: I was actually talking about his “fucking” straightforward usage of English. I thought (like Mike) I’d insert that parenthetical “fucking” to try to make me sound more convincing. ;)

  8. 8  sw  November 18, 2006, 12:29 am 

    I’m not quite sure that some of the post-Post discussion about grammar, and its implications, are worth considering in much detail – the assumption that OJ did not have a grasp on the potential readings of his grammar is one that might be best left unperturbed.

    However, Steve, I think that you were going the right places in your Post; it is “peculiar”, and so perhaps one might think it intentional, as a salesman’s provocative pitch. “If I Had Done It” as a title would suggest just another denial – and who would bother buying that? Presumably fewer people than those who might be titilated by or tut-tutting over the more ambiguous “If I did it”.

    But let’s imagine that it is more than just marketing. Another angle is that “If I did it” provides more force to the subsequent denial. Hedging with “If I had done it” opens up the possibility that the subsequent phrase, “I would have [insert X]”, is part of the same fantasy that postulates “I had done it” – rendering it grotesque as either denial or fantasy. On the other gloved hand, “If I did it” draws the listener in, giving the subsequent denial, in the form of “I would have [insert X]” a bit of rhetorical counter-punch. Compare “If I had done it, why didn’t I wash the blood away?” with “If I did it, why didn’t I wash the blood away?” I submit that the latter is polemically tougher. Ah, apologies – I think that this was suggested by Pablo above. I was still pondering “subjunctivitis”.

    There is one final angle: the assumption by many (and if I bother to think too hard about this whole matter, it is one I would probably share) is that despite a “not guilty” finding, he actually did do it. “If I did it” is a Fuck-You to those who think he did, taunting them with the actuality of the possibility.

  9. 9  Graham Giblin  November 18, 2006, 12:39 am 

    On the other hand (so to speak) ought OJ not to have named the book Had I Done It?
    And then ought not he have putatively said, “the notorious glove should have fit even over my rigidly outstretched hand”?

    Working in London I was firmly corrected by an English co-worker when I expressed a desire to travel imminently to the Continent. “I would like to go to Paris next weekend,” I mused. “No, no,” she rejoindered, “you say ‘I should like to travel to Paris next weekend’.” That was the moment I realised that English was a foreign language.

    And is it always incorrect to begin a sentence with a conjunction?

  10. 10  Leinad  November 18, 2006, 3:34 am 

    Another hint might be that “If I did it” is a lot closer to “I did it” than “If I had done it”. That said, the whole idea behind this dubious promotion makes me slightly nauseous. Who is fucked up enough to even think that this was a good idea?

  11. 11  Sohail  November 18, 2006, 7:29 am 


    Yes, indeed! Let’s do consider worthier lines of thought, namely, how a dumb African American can pen such glaringly incriminating language.

  12. 12  Sohail  November 18, 2006, 7:36 am 


    I should like to point out that according to the charter of the International Tribunal on Grammar Crimes, you could be banged up for a very long time for even daring to begin a sentence with a conjunction. And so please proceed with caution. ;)

  13. 13  Graham Giblin  November 18, 2006, 3:18 pm 

    Perhaps I Never Done Nothin’ (British edition, I Never Did Nuffink) would have been cleverer, offering suitably ambiguous interpretations – both admission and denial.

  14. 14  Steven  November 20, 2006, 10:10 am 

    SW and Leinad: I think you both are on the right track. The book cover has the word “IF” in white, and the rest in blood-red: “I DID IT”. Hmmm.

  15. 15  sw  November 20, 2006, 3:11 pm 

    I cannot believe that we are still thinking about this and commenting on it, and it is some measure of my lack of control that I am even adding this . . . but in response to Leinad above – the publisher, Judith Regan, has been explaining in detail why she published the book, although others have responded to her to suggest that she is, amongst other things, a media whore, laughing all the way to the bank, and a liar herself. First, forgive the use of “others” in the previous sentence: I simply can’t be bothered to cite who these “others” are, but will gladly add the caveat that these “others” too are suspect in that they have bothered to respond to this whole sordid mess. It is a measure of how vile this whole story is that even commenting on the comments about the commentators makes one feel sullied. Second, Steve, I implore you – please get another post up, so that we can kick Hitchens or Amis or Kissinger around: they are far worthier targets – although at least one of them is guilty of more murders than OJ ever could be, and one of them guilty of far more murderously bad prose than OJ could ever concoct. And Hitchens probably drinks more than OJ.

  16. 16  Petrit  November 20, 2006, 6:11 pm 

    “Had I done it”, surely? As in “had I done it, I would have proceeded thus”.

  17. 17  Paul Smith  November 20, 2006, 11:19 pm 

    Even though, I truly believe O.J. is Not Guilty of murder, I believe his latest act of “What If I Did It” despicable and unforgivable. Since O.J. was acquitted of the murders, I supported the verdict because I actually believe it’s a correct verdict. I and a few well known publicist have our own theories on who committed the murders, but this is not the place for me to discuss it.

    To me, its apparent O.J. is doing this shameful stunt not for the publicity, but solely for any income derived no mater who actually receives it. Maybe, its subconscious in O.J.’s depraved wicked mind, but he is attacking society, and his callousness acts are his way of justifying his isolation bestowed on him. Remember he insist he is not guilty of murder and his charm can no longer buy his way out of trouble. What baffles me is why he would subject his children and his former in-laws to this stunt. It’s like opening a painful wound and throwing salt on it.

    I will continue, believing in my opinion O.J. is not guilty of murder, but I hope he wakes up and stop blaming society for losing his charm.

  18. 18  Steven  November 21, 2006, 12:45 am 

    SW, your final sentence is masterful. It deserves quoting again:

    And Hitchens probably drinks more than OJ.

    Magnificent. I can hardly bear, after that, to point out that yet another possibility would be “If I Did Do It”. Still, I will forebear from entering the prescriptivist battles above.

    I feel your pain, meanwhile, as you plead with me to “get another post up”, although it is not quite so straightforward: one has to write the damn things.

  19. 19  Mick  November 21, 2006, 12:51 am 

    Apparently the full title/subtitle is:

    If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened.

    If, as Steven says, there is a colour design that highlights “I Did It”, which is followed by “Here’s How It Happened”, then it does seem to be an admission of guilt.

    Without reading the book. Which you can’t do:

    “After a firestorm of criticism, [elsewhere described as a wave of revulsion] News Corp. [read Murdoch/Regan Books/Harper Collins/Fox TV] said Monday that it had canceled the O.J. Simpson book and TV special “If I Did It.”

  20. 20  Mick  November 21, 2006, 3:40 am 

    Steven, if you’re looking for a new topic how about the USDA’s redefinition of “hunger” in the US as “very low food security”? Seems very “Unspeak” to me…

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