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Center won't hold? Options
afacani
Posted: Thursday, April 5, 2018 4:53:20 AM

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I met this usage and couldn't understand it's meaning. "Center won't hold" or as in W. B. Yeats’s famous line, “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.” Could someone explain it to me?
pjharvey
Posted: Thursday, April 5, 2018 5:22:45 AM
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As a grammar point, the use of "won't" in the place of "cannot" or "doesn't" expresses irritation on the part of the speaker. If you say so, it is as if you attributed to the centre a malignant spirit of its own, who pertinaciously refuses to hold; as if you said, "I want this centre to hold, but the damn thing refuses to cooperate".
Apart from grammar, however, I am not sure what you are referring to.
afacani
Posted: Thursday, April 5, 2018 7:07:09 AM

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Thanks for your explanation.

pjharvey wrote:
As a grammar point, the use of "won't" in the place of "cannot" or "doesn't" expresses irritation on the part of the speaker. If you say so, it is as if you attributed to the centre a malignant spirit of its own, who pertinaciously refuses to hold; as if you said, "I want this centre to hold, but the damn thing refuses to cooperate".
Apart from grammar, however, I am not sure what you are referring to.
Sarrriesfan
Posted: Thursday, April 5, 2018 7:09:11 AM

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"The centre cannot hold " is a reference to battlefield formations of the past.

Imagine an army of British Redcoats or Roman Legionares they would deploy in the battlefield in several formations but one of the most common was to have a large central body of troops with smaller groups of troops to the left or right wings.

When a battle was going very badly for its commander the central formation of troops would no longer be able to hold their formation, and defeat would be upon them.

"The centre cannot hold" might be the cry of dismay of a junior officer to his commander in such a circumstance.

I lack the imagination for a witty signature.
pjharvey
Posted: Thursday, April 5, 2018 8:57:26 AM
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Sarrriesfan wrote:
"The centre cannot hold " is a reference to battlefield formations of the past.

Imagine an army of British Redcoats or Roman Legionares they would deploy in the battlefield in several formations but one of the most common was to have a large central body of troops with smaller groups of troops to the left or right wings.

When a battle was going very badly for its commander the central formation of troops would no longer be able to hold their formation, and defeat would be upon them.

"The centre cannot hold" might be the cry of dismay of a junior officer to his commander in such a circumstance.



Interesting!
But I don't think this is the case: would the officer say "The centre WON'T hold"?, I don't think so...
Sarrriesfan
Posted: Thursday, April 5, 2018 9:23:50 AM

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pjharvey wrote:
Sarrriesfan wrote:
"The centre cannot hold " is a reference to battlefield formations of the past.

Imagine an army of British Redcoats or Roman Legionares they would deploy in the battlefield in several formations but one of the most common was to have a large central body of troops with smaller groups of troops to the left or right wings.

When a battle was going very badly for its commander the central formation of troops would no longer be able to hold their formation, and defeat would be upon them.

"The centre cannot hold" might be the cry of dismay of a junior officer to his commander in such a circumstance.



Interesting!
But I don't think this is the case: would the officer say "The centre WON'T hold"?, I don't think so...


I do not think there is any reason why an officer would not say that, it s not ungrammatical.

I lack the imagination for a witty signature.
NKM
Posted: Thursday, April 5, 2018 2:12:29 PM

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In my experience, using "won't" that way usually indicates that the speaker is resigned to what is going to happen. It may also connote irritation, but that would be shown more by tone of voice than choice of words.

Orson Burleigh
Posted: Thursday, April 5, 2018 2:43:28 PM

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Sarrriesfan wrote:
pjharvey wrote:
Sarrriesfan wrote:
"The centre cannot hold " is a reference to battlefield formations of the past.

Imagine an army of British Redcoats or Roman Legionares they would deploy in the battlefield in several formations but one of the most common was to have a large central body of troops with smaller groups of troops to the left or right wings.

When a battle was going very badly for its commander the central formation of troops would no longer be able to hold their formation, and defeat would be upon them.

"The centre cannot hold" might be the cry of dismay of a junior officer to his commander in such a circumstance.



Interesting!
But I don't think this is the case: would the officer say "The centre WON'T hold"?, I don't think so...


I do not think there is any reason why an officer would not say that, it s not ungrammatical.


Both "will not" and its contracted form "won't" and "cannot" and its contracted form "can't" are usable as indicators of prediction or expectation as well as indicators of prescription or direction.

It is entirely possible that a commander planning for an impending encounter could issue an order directing that "The center won't hold." The commander's intention in that case might be that the center of his line (force A) would fall back, drawing the opposing force (force B) forward into a position where it (force B) could be enveloped by the his own overlapping wings (force A).

In another circumstance, the expression "The center won't hold" might represent the informed prediction of a seasoned officer who has realized that forces deployed as "the center" are either inadequate to the need or have been badly placed, so that they cannot realistically be expected to hold the assigned position. The same assessment, whether correct or not, made by a junior officer could lead to that dismayed junior officer's predicting that "The center won't hold!"

The "center" in Yeats famous phrase has taken on a more general array of uses over the years, being used to refer to feared failure to maintain effective political consensus and, with even wider application, to breakdown(s) of fundamental social conventions leading to societal collapse. In those wider applications only the cynical would see "The center won't hold!" or "The center can't hold!" as prescriptive rather than predictive.
Jyrkkä Jätkä
Posted: Friday, April 6, 2018 4:30:09 AM

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"The center won't hold" sounds to me like a blurt from a football match commentator.

(And yes, I've read my Yeats ;-)


In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.
Orson Burleigh
Posted: Friday, April 6, 2018 7:06:08 AM

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Jyrkkä Jätkä wrote:
"The center won't hold" sounds to me like a blurt from a football match commentator.

(And yes, I've read my Yeats ;-)


Applause Well played Jyrkkä Jätkä - an apt observation. The phrase "The center won't hold" could be useful in sports commentary as a predictive assessment of the action in many of the games which are designed around an effort to move a ball or a puck against opposition.
Sarrriesfan
Posted: Friday, April 6, 2018 7:27:48 AM

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Orson Burleigh wrote:
Jyrkkä Jätkä wrote:
"The center won't hold" sounds to me like a blurt from a football match commentator.

(And yes, I've read my Yeats ;-)


Applause Well played Jyrkkä Jätkä - an apt observation. The phrase "The center won't hold" could be useful in sports commentary as a predictive assessment of the action in many of the games which are designed around an effort to move a ball or a puck against opposition.


I think JJs comment is even more well played than you realise Orson Burleigh.
In soccer "The centre won't hold" can also refer to a particular player, a central midfielder is often called just a "centre" and holding a football is the skill of keeping it at your feet without being tackled until your teammates are in a postion to receive a pass.

I lack the imagination for a witty signature.
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