Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I came across this quote from the movie RocknRolla:

Oh, beauty is a beguiling call to death and I'm addicted to the sweet pitch of its siren. That that starts sweet ends bitter, and that which starts bitter ends sweet.

I understand the metaphor. But I'm confused with the sentence structure of

That that starts sweet ends bitter, and that which starts bitter ends sweet.

Are the first that and the that before 'which starts bitter ends sweet' conjunctions while the second that and which relative pronouns?

share|improve this question
1  
Beauty starts by seeming sweet, but ends in bitterness; death looks initially uninviting and bitter, but becomes sweetly attractive as the end draws nigh. But it's "poetry", so you can put your own interpretation on it. My interpretation is the switch from "that" to "which" in the final clause is clumsy. –  FumbleFingers Apr 1 '12 at 11:22
    
@FumbleFingers Great I get it now. Why not put down your explanation in a form of an answer instead of a comment :) ? It's odd to have an answered question considered unanswered. –  user19341 Apr 1 '12 at 11:42
    
Strictly speaking I think the question is off-topic Lit. Crit., so I don't think it should be formally "Answered" anyway. ELU doesn't generally welcome questions concerning interpretation of song lyrics, poetry, etc. –  FumbleFingers Apr 1 '12 at 11:47
    
Oh. I've edited the question a bit. Is it still off-topic? –  user19341 Apr 1 '12 at 12:01
2  
@FumbleFingers It seems to me that the edit successfully puts the question on-topic. The fact that the sentence can be analyzed out of context shouldn't mean that adding a little context invalidates the question. (Or maybe your "I think so, yes" was meant to be "Yes, it's better now.".) –  Alan Munn Apr 1 '12 at 16:45
show 2 more comments

1 Answer

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The two 'that's are simply demonstrative pronouns. Each conjunct of your sentence has the same basic structure as:

  • He who hesitates is lost.

In this sentence, the 'he' is a pronoun, and the 'who' is a relative pronoun. In your second conjunct:

  • That which starts bitter ends sweet.

'that' is a pronoun, and 'which' is a relative pronoun.

In the first conjunct:

  • That that starts sweet ends bitter.

the first 'that' is a pronoun. The second 'that' is traditionally called a relative pronoun, but many linguists (including myself) would say that it is simply the subordinating conjunction (or complementizer) 'that'.

share|improve this answer
1  
No, the two forms are pretty much synonymous. –  Alan Munn Apr 1 '12 at 14:03
1  
That and which are synonymous/interchangeable in this context, but I still think it's stylistically clunky to switch from one to the other in a sentence that (which?!) is based on semantic and structural symmetry. –  FumbleFingers Apr 1 '12 at 16:27
2  
I don't disagree - your answer is focussed on exactly the (revised) question. Actually though, I am a little confused - if 'which' is a relative pronoun, why do you say 'that' is a subordinating conjunction (or complementizer)? I can't see any different roles being performed by the two words in this context, so how can they justify different (syntactic?) names? –  FumbleFingers Apr 1 '12 at 16:43
1  
So, in my simple-minded way, should I assume an underlying "That thing which starts sweet ends bitter", where "thing" can be replaced by "that" - then either that word or "which" (but not both) can be deleted? I just knew I was going to get out of my depth here! :) –  FumbleFingers Apr 1 '12 at 19:17
1  
@FumbleFingers Yes, that's the right idea. But 'thing' can be deleted, and you need either (the second) 'that' or 'which' obligatorily in this context because (as in the linked question) the NP in the relative clause is related to the main subject of the relative clause. –  Alan Munn Apr 1 '12 at 19:22
show 7 more comments

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.