Damned vs. Dammed

background image 83

An article from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies recently revealed the shocking news that some South Korean rivers have been condemned to eternal punishment :

The natural landscape of South Korea has been largely re-engineered, with nearly every river damned or forced into concrete channels.

Of course, what the piece really meant to say was “dammed” – with a dam on it. Dammed and damned are two words that are often confused, not least because they are homophones; they sound the same. It’s also easy to miss an incorrect usage because the two words look so similar. The main evening news on the BBC recently displayed a graphic for a story about a “damming report” into the UK Ministry of Defence. The report had nothing to do with dams.

To add to the confusion, the words are often deliberately mixed up by writers for the purpose of creating witty or ironic titles.

The distinction is straightforward. Rivers are dammed and sinners are damned.

…LONDON — There are three kinds of lies, goes the old saying popularized by Mark Twain: “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” That’s been on my mind this month as I’ve watched a big scandal over aid workers’ … (www.nytimes.com)

… gnawed through by the beaver family, all dead or dying under 3ft of water. The beavers have done what beavers do – dammed the stream that links one loch with another, allowing them to swim their territory instead of walk it. The result … (www.theguardian.com)

Stop making those embarrassing mistakes! Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips today!

You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!

Each newsletter contains a writing tip, word of the day, and exercise!

You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!

3 thoughts on “Damned vs. Dammed”

  1. Um – depending on your faith, sinners might be redeemed, sometimes.

    And some feel that living this life on earth, is the living damnation we weren’t saved from.

    Then again, there are those that feel sin is a made-up concept, and an anythingarian might well ignore the entire notion, as not being of any particular interest.

    But I take your meaning, that damned is often intermingled with other curse words – curse in the Christian sense of impugning the state of another’s soul. Curse in a more general sense, of course, is an emphatically felt desire for ill or harm to come to another.

    Could an expanded title for this piece be, “Damned if you do, and dammed if you don’t?” – another, somewhat extended parody of the expression equating to “between a rock and a hard place.” The meaning of having to make a choice with no good alternative would be twisted a bit, to choosing a bad option or being blocked (by a metaphorical dam).

    Then, of course, “Damned if you do, dammed if you don’t,” might refer to making one into a mother, usually of cattle, horses, etc. Or bombarded, covered, or gifted with dams. I can just see being dammed by having fourteen female sheep and their newborn lambs inflicted on me. Well, that might not be so bad. Dam being derived from “dame”, or lady.

    But then, dammed might refer to decametre – and simply mean that I was measured in ten meter units (approx. 0.183).

    (Sorry, my Chamber dictionary happened to be handy.)

    There is the obsolete Scots use, a draughtman. Dams would be the game of draughts, damboard or dambrod would be the draughtboard.

    Then there is the use of dam as a form of damn or damned. Damme /dam'(m)ee/ for damn me, or dammit /dam-(m)it/ for damn it. Or “as near as dammit”, very nearly.

    Which would make dammed if you do and damned if you don’t work, but still leave you hanging for saying that so-and-so is damning your progress. Um, well, that might mean condemning your efforts to failure, instead of merely blocking your efforts. Or should I look at a dam as condemning a river to puddle and pool?

    Thanks, anyway, for explaining . . lol!

  2. Brad,

    Fair points and thanks for the further discussion on the meanings of “dam”. I was, of course, keeping things simple for the purposes of making a point. And I was deliberately not getting into any religious discussion but, again, simplifying in order to illustrate my meaning.

Leave a Comment