Ask-A-Linguist Message Details
|Subject:||On English Usage (For make no mistake)|
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
Thank you for your help in advance from an English teacher in
The only possible interpretation is (2), as I'm sure other panelists will have told you. "Make no mistake" is a cliché, in the grammatical form of an imperative, which roughly means "you have to accept that the following is true though you might prefer to disbelieve it". "For" is a conjunction roughly equivalent to "because", introducing the clause "evil does exist ...". There is no possibility of understanding "for" as a preposition, as in "I did it for Rupert", because there is no nominal term to be its complement (and the prepositional meaning "on behalf of" would make no sense in the context).
I am startled to hear that Japanese newspapers have translated the wording in terms of your interpretation (1); unless they have not just translated the words but changed them considerably, it seems to me that they would have turned the utterance into nonsense.
|Reply From:||Geoffrey Richard Sampson click here to access email|