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Subject: On English Usage (For make no mistake)
Question: This question is about part of Obama's Nobel Prize Acceptance
speech in 2009. There are two divided views on the
interpretation of: ''For make no mistake'' in the speech:

"But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I
cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it
is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American
people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-
violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies."

(1) One interpretation is ''for make no mistake'' forms a phrase
for the emphasis of the gravity of his statement, ''for'' being a
preposition, if asked of its part of speech.
(2) The other interpretation is ''for'' is a conjunction which is
semantically similar to ''because'' and ''make no mistake'' is an

Most translations of Japanese newspapers interpret it as (1) but
only one newspaper as (2). My preference goes for (1), but as a
non-native speaker, I am not certain. I need native English
speakers help.

Thank you for your help in advance from an English teacher in

Reply: <pre>
Unlike Elizabeth, for me #2 is the only acceptable parsing.

The imperative "make no mistake" is pragmatics, a frozen challenge phrase, inserted
-- perhaps with dashes, or commas -- into an appropriate sentence niche.

So the actual sentence is "For evil does exist in the world". It is, of course,
subordinate in syntactic structure, even though it's printed (and possibly intoned) as
a complete sentence.

This is the so-called coordinating conjunction "for" that I learned on a list in grade
school. I always wondered why it was considered a coordinating conjunction, when
"because" was considered a subordinating conjunction. As far as I was concerned,
they were synonymous and differed only in register (though that's not the way I'd've
described it in grade school). Perhaps rhetorical structures like this are the reason
why "for" was on those lists.

In the case of Obama's speech (which I did not hear and have not read), I would
consider the string "For make no mistake", at the beginning of a sentence at the
beginning of a peroration, to be simply a matter of omitting a comma in a short
phrase in print, and (perhaps; as I say, I didn't hear it) omitting the mid-low-high-
mid comma intonation contour, also in a short phrase.

Which phrase is archaic, and therefore more formal, and pretty much frozen, and
was certainly a phrase picked by the President with deliberation, whatever else may
be true of it. I tend to trust his rhetorical judgements.
Reply From: John M. Lawler      click here to access email
Date: 09-Jan-2014
Other Replies:
  1. Re: On English Usage (For make no mistake)    Elizabeth J Pyatt     (09-Jan-2014)
  2. Re: On English Usage (For make no mistake)    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (10-Jan-2014)
  3. Re: On English Usage (For make no mistake)    Marilyn N Silva     (09-Jan-2014)
  4. Re: On English Usage (For make no mistake)    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (11-Jan-2014)

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