"If it isn't [a name]!" can be used to show surprise when you bump into someone, but it is not a complete sentence. What is omitted (and understood) here?

I'd appreciate your help.

2 Answers 2


What has disappeared from if it isn’t [name]! is an oath, euphemistically expressed or not, along a familiar pattern:

…may thunder strike me dead if e're i lov'd before i saw your all commanding beauty … Lewis Maidwell, The Loving Enemies (comedy), 1680. EEBO

Restore the oath and you get a complete sentence. A few examples:

“Lord save us!” said Matty, “if it isn’t his honour. You are ten thousand times welcome …” — Anne Newport Royall, The Tennessean (novel), 1827. COHA

“Why, it a'n't! Yes, I'll be switched if it isn't Harry Beckworth rose from the dead!” — Caroline M. Kirkland, A New Home — Who'll Follow?, 1839. COHA

“Lord bless me if it isn't young marster's sister.” — Mary Jane Holmes, Tempest and Sunshine, 1854. COHA

"Eh? Why, hang me, if it isn't Old King Brady. What are you doing here, you old fox ?" — “The Bradys and ‘Black Jack,’” Secret Service (detective magazine), 26 Feb. 1904, 23.

As @FumbleFingers has commented that the British minced oath of blow me down is commonly completed with an if clause, there is a gem I couldn’t resist:

Why blow me down if it isn't the local glamour girl — come to Daddy, Thelma! — R.F. Delderfield, Worm’s Eye View: A Comedy, Embassy Successes, v. I & II (1945–46), 11.

The complete form has certainly not died out, though perhaps living on with more contemporary swearing:

'F*** me if it ain't Burkett 359,' — Jeremy Cameron, It was an Accident, 2015.

  • 1
    I'd never have thought of this for myself, but as soon as I see it, I'm convinced you're quite right. By way of supporting evidence, I asked Google NGrams what would be the most likely word to follow the "minced oath" blow me down. As you can probably guess, it's if, by some margin. Aug 17, 2019 at 12:08
  • @FumbleFingers: Thanks! I had to add a particularly delicious example from your search, but got the full bibliographic from archive.org. This is from one of the first plays to grace the London stage after the war.
    – KarlG
    Aug 17, 2019 at 13:59
  • I'll be switched means I'll be beaten with a thin stick. Aug 17, 2019 at 14:45
  • Excellent research (I'm trying to work out how you went about it. Can you search for ", if it isn't?"?) Aug 17, 2019 at 14:59
  • 2
    @EdwinAshworth: Google and the BYU corpora can search for “if it is n’t.” A few I got with “me if it.”
    – KarlG
    Aug 17, 2019 at 16:00

The expression could possibly be considered a protasis (dependent clause) which is missing its apodosis (independent clause):

  • If it isn't Jack Smith, I will be surprised.

But a better explanation is that the omission consists of what the Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (p444) calls an initiator, i.e. a word to preface a statement. In this case this speaker would probably not have said simply:

  • If it isn't Jack Smith!


  • Well, if it isn't Jack Smith!


  • Why, if it isn't Jack Smith.

As the CGEL states in the section sentence types and discourse functions (p842):

Negative if-clauses, usually preceded by well or why, are used to express surprise:

  • Well, if it isn't the manager himself! ['It is indeed the manager himself!']

  • Why, if it isn't Susan! ['It is indeed Susan']

So, the expression can stand by itself as what has elsewhere been called an emotive interjection, in this case to express surprise and perhaps pleasure.

  • I'll be a monkey's uncle if someone can tell me what to do with Karl's answer. +1. What's missing is what you'll do if it isn't. Commonly used is a phrase, with a four letter s word, about soiling yourself.
    – Mazura
    Aug 17, 2019 at 19:35

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