Second-guessing John Lennon

Today we went to the John Lennon Museum. I had heard that Yoko had turned it into a Paul-free Plastic Ono Band-fest, but that wasn't the case. It seemed pretty even-handed to me. Lennon's pre-Ono family didn't exactly get lengthy writeups, but I suppose that too is an accurate reflection of the man himself.

One thing that hit me comparing the English and the translation is that the weird slogan "War is over! If you want it" seems suspiciously like a direct, awkward translation from the Japanese they gave: from memory, "戦争は終わる!あなたが望むならば".

See, I had always wondered about "if you want it". It just doesn't seem natural. The "it" seems too close to referring to "war" rather than "the end of war". In a parallel construction like "Dinner is served! If you want it", "it" is clearly "dinner". My native speaker sense also rejects that "it" as a contraction of "it to be over" or something similar. ("That" would be borderline acceptable, but not "it".)

On the other hand, in "戦争は終わる!あなたが望むならば", the object of the "want" (望む) is omitted because it is understood. So it is not difficult to imagine a naiive translator or casual conversationalist, when faced with the need to include the object, simply adding an "it".

Beyond the "it", 戦争は終わる! is more natural in Japanese than "War is over!" is in English, and あなたが望むならば is a much more acceptable fragment than "if you want it". Overall, the Japanese is about as natural as "War will end -- if you want it to."

Obviously, "Happy Xmas (War is over)" is a fantastic song as it is, and uses the two four-syllable phrases to great effect; indeed, their oddness is part of the charm, and the reason why they stick in the mind so. But it is interesting to think that the inspiration for them may have been interlanguage line noise, making "War is over! If you want it" a spiritual cousin to "Welcome to my homepage! I kiss you!!"

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Huh, that's very interesting. I always found "if you want it" a bit off, and your explanation makes more sense than anything else is likely to.


Brilliant, as always. You have hit the nail on the head, I think.


"War is over/ If you want it" never struck me as odd--I think I took it as "want it (to be so)" or something. What always does get me about that song, though, is "So this is Christmas/ What have you done?/ Another year over/ A new one just begun." I always think, "Not so fast, John--it's only Dec. 25th!"


That whole song is out of line! Cancel peace!

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