August 17, 2013

Eff That Noise

One of the more interesting words in English language is this one. This article will not use that word simply because I have an aversion to using it in general, but especially in a public forum. Instead, I will use the word Frack. It loses some of the strength of the invective, but if you do the translation, you'll get the general idea of where I'm going. Do the translation everywhere you see the word Frack.

This article is not so much about the word, because the Wikipedia article to which I pointed you already has a very fascinating write-up. This article is more about a grammatical nuance that profanity seems to bring to English. I noticed it while I was trying to think of a motto for myself. (Hey, I was out walking and was bored out of my mind. What else was I supposed to be thinking about?) Anyway, the motto I decided I liked best was Frack the Obstacles. (But transposed inappropriately, as mentioned.)  I was going to ask a friend of mine to translate this into Latin for me. But as I thought it through, I realized that the translation was very important and had to convey the rancor of the vituperation. I wondered first if there was the vulgar equivalent in Latin, then I wondered how he would conjugate it.

To explain why that is important, I need to back up a little further to the reason why the motto appeals to me. It starts with myself and a different friend pulling into a parking space. A small tree overhung the space and my truck was really too large to fit there. However, heedless, I pulled forward all the way into the spot. The limbs of the tree screeched against the side of my truck. A mass of leaves pressed against the windshield. My friend laughed and said, “Frack that tree.”

That's how I felt as I was walking and thinking about mottoes. Frack that tree. Frack whatever is trying to stop me. I'm going where I'm going to go, and nothing is going to stop me.

Back to conjugation. There is concept in English that allows for a sentence fragment if the subject is understood. For example, if I say, “Go to hell,” the subject You is understood. If I were to translate that into another language, I would use the conjugation that implies You. For example, ¡Vas al diablo!

Unfortunately Frack is not so easy to translate. Frack that tree does not carry the same meaning as You frack that tree. The sentence Frack you! does not seem to be as effective as You frack you! (Although it is quite effective when transposed to Go frack yourself! It just seems to have a subtly different meaning.) There is one famous line in history that has a similar meaning and phrasing. Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead! I think the understood subject Everybody would work just as well. Everybody damn the torpedoes – full speed ahead! But again, that doesn't translate with frack that tree. I also wondered if the subject is understood to be self referencing. That is, I frack that tree. While closer, I am pretty sure it simply isn't true. That's not what I would mean if I said it.

The truth is that the tree is irrelevant or worse. By saying, frack that tree, I'm saying that the value of the tree is of no consequence to me. I'm saying that the tree's wishes are of no consequence to me. In fact, I hold the tree in such high contempt that I will make a conscious effort to frustrate that tree's efforts to inhibit me – even if going around or making a small adjustment would be easier for me. It holds more malice than the statement, I don't give a frack about that tree.

This leads me to the conclusion that there is a sentence structure that is allowable in English even though it has no subject. The subject is not understood. The subject is non-existent. Furthermore, it may be that the only time that this is true is when we use the verb form of Frack.

That said, there are two types of feedback I would like from the thousands of people who don't read this blog. The first would be from grammar wonks. What do you think of my conclusion? Does this warrant another exception in the English language? The second from students of Latin. Is there a translation that carries the full connotation behind phrases like Damn the torpedoes and Frack the Obstacles?

It turns out that the linked Wikipedia article shows that this is a misquotation of the quote on record. Read it for yourself and see. The original quote could have the understood subject of you as it is a direct order from the admiral.