Blast furnished

A word-usage note from Patrick at Popehat, derived from his reading of Melville’s Moby-Dick:

I still don’t understand how, in the English language, “blast” became a euphemism for “damn,” a reference that struck me on my second reading. Moby-Dick, as do many others written before the 1960s, contains a wealth of “blasted” people, “blasted” ships, “blasted” storms, and “blasted” whales.

But, blast it all, while the people, the ships, the storms may be damned, the whales technically weren’t: they acquired their blastedness in a different manner altogether. Quoting Melville:

As we glided nearer, the stranger showed French colors from his peak; and by the eddying cloud of vulture sea-fowl that circled, and hovered, and swooped around him, it was plain that the whale alongside must be what the fishermen call a blasted whale, that is, a whale that has died unmolested on the sea, and so floated an unappropriated corpse. It may well be conceived, what an unsavory odor such a mass must exhale; worse than an Assyrian city in the plague, when the living are incompetent to bury the departed.

Then again, should you introduce some form of ignition to the gases rising from such an ex-whale, you’ll see all the damned blasts you could possibly want.

As to how “damned” and “blasted” became sort of synonyms, this is, I suspect, an artifact of shifting levels of word acceptability: one commenter cites “bloody,” a term once thought blasphemous in Britain, now almost innocuous, and wonders if the F-word will some day be similarly laundered.





5 comments

  1. Tatyana »

    5 December 2011 · 8:17 am

    “bloody,” a term once thought blasphemous in Britain

    yes, that is still puzzling to me. Why? is it, in turn, an euphemism of something else? or blood was considered indecent spectacle?

  2. CGHill »

    5 December 2011 · 8:26 am

    Your choice of explanations, here.

  3. fillyjonk »

    5 December 2011 · 10:50 am

    It is also possible for plants to literally be blasted.

    Also: “Damn and blast” is not all that uncommon of an expletive (I’ve said it myself).

  4. Tatyana »

    5 December 2011 · 12:32 pm

    Oh, that simplified things tremendously!

  5. nightfly »

    5 December 2011 · 10:23 pm

    “IF” the f-word becomes laundered?

    Well underway, I think.

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