"make no mistake"

Mark Mandel thnidu at GMAIL.COM
Fri Nov 14 15:46:10 UTC 2008

Arnold, you give the quotation as

  You should make no mistake this is anything else but a war.

but you describe it as

  but in the quote above, we have "make no mistake" with a "that"-
  complement conveying a negative assertion

Did you accidentally omit the "that" in typing the audio example, or
did you mean (that) the optional complementizer was omitted?

As transcribed by you, with no "that", the parsing depends on prosody.
With a pause, as could be written

  You should make no mistake: This is anything else but a war.

the construction would not be novel or ambiguous.

Mark Mandel

On Fri, Nov 14, 2008 at 10:21 AM, Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at stanford.edu> 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?
> 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
> undercount.
> ....
> arnold
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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