Damn And Blast

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17 Responses

  1. Laura K says:

    Hi Patrick,

    I would wonder if this is an abreviation from a longer phrase "blasted by the fires of hell". Sometimes liguistic terms just pop up because enough people shorten a phrase or find a correlation between two seperate entities in a fashion that makes sense to them and boom!

    Also there's a wealth of references in western culture linking hell to the underworld–Cumae, Hades, etc and, in turn, volcanic fissures or vents which would 'blast' forth. And even less educated sailors had more access to classical reference and, in fact, a lot of things that people with comparable education (or lack) today do not. Not to mention that Melville would have grown up hearing the rhetoric wealth of traditional 19th century sermons and received a classical education–of some kind. He would have easily combined blast and damned as many people of his era may have. If you are damned to suffer the blasts of hellish heat etc you are damned; maybe that is the unconsious logic?

  2. PLW says:

    The OED offers some hints. It traces it being used as a curse back at least to Dryden (1682), so we need to pick up the search from there.

    1682 Dryden Medall 16 "What Curses on thy blasted Name will fall!"

    It is used to represent a literal explosion, perhaps from supernatural agency, even before that.

  3. I also always understood it to mean "blasted by the fires of hell." The earliest source I can find with casual internet browsing, from 1819, seems to bear that meaning. See here.

  4. David says:

    Isn't it odd that a seemingly damning indictment may turn out to be either blistering or mere bluster?

  5. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    I wonder if Mencken's American Language has anything to say on the subject? I'll see if my copy is anywhere near the surface and get back to you. The one observation that springs to mind is that, from a pronunciation POV, it's satisfyingly explosive.

  6. David says:

    Let us not, in passing, forget the monumental, short-lived BLAST, a key contribution of Lewis and Pound to early Modernism.

  7. Andrew says:

    The OED actually goes back a bit further, to 1634:

    "And thus I kiss'd my last breath. Blast you all." — George Chapman, Revenge for Honour

  8. Andrew says:

    Also, Matt Kish's extremely awesome project to illustrate every page of Moby Dick includes one drawing devotedly entirely to the word.

  9. A Critic says:

    3.3 Cursed, damned. In low language as an expression of reprobation and hatred. Also used adverbially.


    1682 Dryden Medal 260 What Curses on thy blasted Name will fall.    1750 Chesterfield Lett. 8 Jan. (1870) 169 Colonel Chartres‥who was, I believe, the most notorious blasted rascal in the world.    1854 M. J. Holmes Tempest & Sunshine (1858) xv. 204 Lord's sake be spry, for I'm blasted hungry!    1874 Pusey Lent. Serm. 79 Balaam, after the success of his blasted counsel.    1884 Gd. Words Nov. 767/1 Jim Black states that the ‘blasted’ railway has done away with those journeys.    1886 Leslie's Pop. Monthly Jan. 67/2 He's too blasted smart for an Indian.

  10. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    Mencken does mention Blast as a substitute for Damn and Blasted as a substitute for Damned, but gives no clue as to the reasoning, save to observe that at times Blast and Blasted have been considered fairly strong language, although by his day this feeling has retreated to the most remote country enclaves and the recesses of the Post Office. He does mention that the DAE (Dictionary of American English) traces Blast (as an expletive, in the Americas) to 1854.

  11. Rich Rostrom says:

    Going back further: the Three Witches confront Macbeth and Banquo on a "blasted heath". This is not an expletive, but a reference to the desolate character of the landscape:

    MACBETH: "Say from whence
    You owe this strange intelligence? or why
    Upon this blasted heath you stop our way
    With such prophetic greeting?"

    "Blasted" as a descriptive is clearly negative. ISTR "blast" applied to the ruination of crops, fruit, or flowers by untimely weather.

  12. Josh says:

    No comment on blast as a euphemism, but I encourage you to also read In the Heart of the Sea, by Nathaniel Philbrick. It is the true story which served, at least allegedly, as the inspiration for Moby Dick.

  13. tom says:

    As "bloody" is a now quaint term with a formerly extremely profane meaning, I wonder how long it will be before "fuck" becomes relatively innocuous.

  14. IGotBupkis, Sailing the Economic Seas Betwixt Scylla And Charybdis says:

    Heh, you want an interesting linguistic twist, go through as many old dictionaries as you can find — what percentage of those published before 1990 had the word "misogynist" but not the term "misandrist"?

    I noted that when looking for a word meaning misandrist, and actually could not find it… not even in theOED, which is supposed to contain everything that isn't slang.

    I had to guess what it was by comparing the roots of the words polygamy and polyandry.

    And no, misanthropist is not the same as misandrist, not by a long shot.

    A very curious omission from the language, seems to me.

  15. IGotBupkis, Sailing the Economic Seas Betwixt Scylla And Charybdis says:

    There's always been a linguistic internet working: It treats censorship as noise and routes around it.

    Hence the word "snafu", which is short for "situation normal, all ephed up"… and no, unless you're explaining it to your great grandmother or your first grader, "ephed" does not mean "fouled". Similarly, there's the word "fubar", which stands for "ephed up beyond all recognition", and often shortened to "foo" — and visible repeatedly in old Smokey Stover comic strips (yeah, yeah, yeah, even knowing the name dates me. Eph U :D …)

    Now, interestingly enough, I'm curious about the etymology of the eph word itself. I've been told that it stands for usage in police blotters of a shorthand for "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge", but some sources seem to argue that it predates that. That's certainly how the Van Halen album got its name, but is that a true story…?

  16. Lo says:

    IGotBupkis, there's a detailed entry on that at the Online Etymology Dictionary, which is a great resource even if it doesn't shed a ton of light on "blasted."

  1. December 4, 2011

    […] word-usage note from Patrick at Popehat, derived from his reading of Melville's Moby-Dick: I still don't understand how, in […]