Date: Fri, 24 Oct 1997 12:39:26 EDT


Subject: Re: Your mail

Ron writes

Larry writes:

Quang cites the contrasts

Damn {God/*Himself}

Goddamn {God/*Himself}

to argue against the analysis in which

God is the underlying subject of such


I have never undestood this argument. It seems to me that "Damn!" is a

shortening of "Damn it!" which in turn has the "underlying" structure "May

God Damn it!" Who else would do the damning but God? How can anything other

than God be the LOGICAL subject of "damn" (or "bless")? The fact that "*God

damn himself!" is unacceptable to most people is irrelevant, since "May God

damn himself!" is acceptable--the constraint is on the "deletion" of "May"

before the reflexive.

What Quang ends up positing (and this was in the days of VERY abstract

deep structures, especially chez McCawley, Quang's alter-ego) is

Epithet -- Quasi-verb NP

--so that Damn you, Fuck you, etc. have no underlying subject. Seems right to

me. The extension to Bless you is, admittedly, somewhat speculative and may

differ according to the religious convictions of the blesser. (Notice, in-

cidently, that I am using "blesser" here metalinguistically and do not intend

transcendental reference.)

If my intuitions are correct, God cannot

be the subject of "bless" . . .

It's clearly an empirical question.

Since this has never happened to me (or to anyone else who is signed up for

ads-l) I'm not sure that it is relevant. I'm even less sure how this thought

experiment is an "empirical" question...

Sorry. I thought I could get away without the smiley on that one.

(The use of reflexives as a test for "subjecthood" is a bit murky, anyway,

e.g., one can say either, "I aimed the gun at myself" or "I aimed the gun at


Actually, this one I'll go to the mat for. There's a difference between object

reflexives, whose governance conditions seem to be almost purely grammatical,

and non-object reflexives, which (especially when there IS a direct object) are

determined by a complex set of conditions resulting in what may seem to be

optionality (as in the aim case above) but on closer examination aren't really

a matter of mere "free variation"; among those writing insightfully on these

are Kuno (_Syntactic Theory_), discussing such pairs as "She pulled the coat

around her/herself". The relevant example in our case is not "I aimed the gun

at me/myself" but "I shot myself/*me", or "Don't shoot yourself/*you".


obADS: Then there are the indirect object non-argument cases we've touched on

here--I'm gonna get {me/myself} a beer, He's gonna find him a wife,...