"make no mistake"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Nov 14 15:30:49 UTC 2008

At 7:21 AM -0800 11/14/08, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
>someone interviewed on BBC World News yesterday (i heard it on the
>radio, but didn't catch the name of the speaker, and haven't been able
>to find the quote on-line):
>   You should make no mistake this is anything else but a war.
>i had a moment of bafflement, since for me
>   make no mistake (about it): X  OR  X, make no mistake (about it)
>is a way of strongly asserting X; as the Cambridge Dictionary of
>American Idioms (2003) has it, 'do not imagine that I am wrong'.
>but in the quote above, we have "make no mistake" with a "that"-
>complement conveying a negative assertion -- in this particular case,
>'you should not think that this is anything else but a war'.
>the examples of "make no mistake that ..." that i've googled up seem
>all to be positive -- hypotactic versions of the paratactic uses i'm
>most familiar with.
>(yes, the "else" in "anything else but a war" would be treated as a
>pleonastic by many usage critics, but that's a separate point from the
>one i'm making here.)
>students of malnegation: what think you?

Speaking for myself:  I like it!  (That's a note
of aesthetic approval, not necessarily normative
blessing.)  Actually, though, it can be perfectly
compositional, as you note above, given that the
"that" is functioning as a true complementizer
here.  The "else" is pleonastic, but the negation


>bonus from the Bushisms literature: a 2004 rant on Slate against "make
>no mistake".  (looking at the huge number of hits for "make no mistake
>(that)", from a great variety of sources, i don't detect the tone that
>so annoys Timothy Noah.  but then he heard what he was listening for.)
>   http://www.slate.com/id/2100685/
>Against "Make No Mistake"
>Time to fight back against the worst Bushism of all.
>By Timothy Noah
>Posted Monday, May 17, 2004, at 6:38 PM ET
>I do not count myself among those who hate President Bush. But I do
>hate the expression, "make no mistake." It's a bully-boy phrase, meant
>to warn that the speaker really means what he is saying. But shouldn't
>we always mean what we say-or, if we're politicians, at least pretend
>to? Even if you buy into the phrase's swagger, it isn't half so
>creative as "read my lips," which speechwriter Peggy Noonan put into
>George H.W. Bush's mouth when he promised not to raise taxes. ("Read
>my lips" had to be retired after Bush pèrebroke that promise in 1990,
>but that's hardly Noonan's fault.) "Read my lips" is funny-unless, of
>course, it's spoken to a deaf person-and swagger always comes across
>better when it's leavened with humor. "Make no mistake," on the other
>hand, are the words not merely of a bully, but of a bully who lacks
>panache. It practically begs for a defiant response. Listen, buddy,
>I'll make a mistake whenever I goddamn well feel like it. And, of
>course, it's especially galling coming from Bush, whose presidency has
>been one long string of mistakes, most especially the one we're
>currently grappling with in Iraq.
>The current president did not invent the phrase, "make no mistake,"
>but he uses it a lot. The search engine for the White House Web site
>displays 227 instances, and, even discounting for the fact that some
>of these MNMs emanated from Bush apparatchiks like former press
>spokesman Ari Fleischer and Tom Ridge, I feel certain that's a gross
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list