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In re Say What You Mean

In a throwaway one-line post yesterday afternoon, I used the expression “the damn thing,” as in, “I created the whole damn thing because I was hoping we ‘d have grammar and vocabulary debates.”

I was referring to Power Line Forum, the booming nexus for live and interactive political commentary, which I had developed along with Peter Flaschner and John Hinderaker. A fun little thread about grammar—specifically, a debate over the use of the word “presently”—popped up at the forum, of which I made note here on Dartblog. But my note, deliciously enough, contained its own grammatical error. A reader writes:

Joe,

I can’t suppress my desire to correct the grammar in your “say what you mean” post. I believe that “damn” is a verb, and that you meant to say you had created the whole “damned” thing.

Of course, one clever reply would be “frankly, my dear …,” as that would serve to illustrate the fact that “curse” words, base as they are, do not always follow rules of grammar (in Rhett’s case, “damn” was apparently a noun). [And should have been ‘damnation’. -jm] This principle is perhaps best exemplified by the well-worn phrase “f - - k you,” which, as far as I can tell, defies grammatical analysis. (I’m pretty sure, e.g., that the first word in that phrase is not a transitive verb, and it doesn’t really seem to be an imperative, either.)

Still, I can’t help but think that where rules of grammar can reasonably be applied, they should be. Thus, in my opinion, the word “damn” cannot be used as an adjective while “damned” is readily at hand.

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