I don't understand the usage of "what" in this context. This is an excerpt from Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s address to the 1869 Woman Suffrage Convention in Washington, DC. I urge a sixteenth amendment, because “manhood suffrage,” or a man’s government, is civil, religious, and social disorganization. The male element is a destructive force... See what a record of blood and cruelty the pages of history reveal! Through 【what】 slavery, slaughter, and sacrifice, through 【what】 inquisitions and imprisonments, pains and persecutions, black codes and gloomy creeds, the soul of humanity has struggled for the centuries, while mercy has veiled her face and all hearts have been dead alike to love and hope! The two whats that I mark in this paragraph do not introduce object clauses because they are followed by a series of nouns /noun phrases instead of a sentence. I think these two whats can be deleted and the sentence still makes sense. Why can "what" be used in this way? Thank you very much for your help!!! :)
Jan 15, 2017 4:27 AM
Answers · 5
It *could* be used very similarly as an Interrogative pronoun. Person A: "Through what slavery, slaughter, and sacrifice ... etc?" Person B <pointing to some slavery, slaughter, and sacrifice>: "Through *that* slavery, slaughter, and sacrifice over there." Person A: "Oh. Got it." But here it's kind of a rhetorical interrogative, because she knows the answer. It's more like "Oh, what slavery, slaughter, and sacrifice we struggled through" (in the sense of "do you agree that it was a lot?"). You could replace "what" with "such" and that might make it clearer. You can also say "Oh, what a beautiful flower that is, isn't it?" in the same sense that the speaker is using it here.
January 15, 2017
Hi Grace, "What" can be used as a pronoun to take the place of certain nouns under certain circumstances. I'm not 100% sure exactly what those circumstances are, but "what" seems to be able to substitute for nouns such as "thing," "effect," "legacy," etc. For example: "What he meant to say was that he only spent a month training for the Olympics." In this case, "what" takes the place of "the thing." In your example, "what" takes the place of "the effects of" and "the legacy of." Again, I cannot be 100% certain as to exactly which nouns "what" can substitute for; maybe someone with more expertise can help answer that part. Hopefully, my answer has helped you a little. If I've confused you more, I apologize.
January 15, 2017
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