Strangeness in “Patience Games,” Series 2, and “Selected Patience Games” . . .

I am sure that all of us have made the mistake of having a verb agree with a non-subject noun, and not agree with the subject. This may happen where you have the subject noun, and then the non-subject noun, and then the verb. Professor Hoffmann (or a typesetter or someone else connected with the booklet) did this in a patience game called “Stop!”  Hoffmann describes the game in Patience Games, Series 2, 1901, pages 50-54. The last sentence of the account reads as follows:

Cards played to an opponent’s waste heap or line becomes his cards.

The verb “becomes” agrees with “line.” I should have been “become,” to agree with the plural-noun subject, “Cards.”

Okay, but what happened later?

Well, if you look at (say) a 1923 version, you will find:

Cards played to an opponent’s waste heap or line become his card.

This corrects the verb but for some reason makes the last word (which I suppose would be a predicate nominative) singular, when it seems to me it should be plural.

It is the same in a copy dated 1911, and the same in a copy dated 1909.

And that 1909 copy is getting pretty close to the time of the first edition, which probably appeared in 1907 (which is the earliest date given by the online Bodleian Library catalog).

So I guess that settles it, right? I mean, they must have made the correction (or semi-correction) starting with the 1907 edition, right? We don’t really have to doubt that, right?

Uh, wrong.

I have another copy dated 1909 (same date as one of the booklets mentioned above), where that sentence reads as follows. This is the best version of the sentence:

Cards played to an opponent’s waste heap or line become his cards.

For a couple of reasons, I am quite certain that this 1909 version appeared before the other one.

So . . . three different versions of the sentence.

—Tom Sawyer

June 6, 2017

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