From Dune by Frank Herbert:

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

He felt calmness return, said: "Get on with it, old woman."

"Old woman!" she snapped. "You've courage, and that can't be denied. Well, we shall see, sirra." She bent close, lowered her voice almost to a whisper. "You will feel pain in this hand within the box. Pain. But! Withdraw the hand and I'll touch your neck with my gom jabbar --the death so swift it's like the fall of the headsman's axe. Withdraw your hand and the gom jabbar takes you. Understand?"

"What's in the box?"


Is the sentence "But!" considered grammatically correct? How is this meant to be interpreted? How is it different from using a comma? It should be noted this is part of a dialog.

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    Where's it from? What's "Dune"? Can you provide a link? – TrevorD Aug 12 '13 at 23:02
  • Guessing Dune @TrevorD. But that's a very large series of very long books, with more than one author. A clearer reference would be good. Also, a bit more context would be handy: is this dialogue? – TRiG Aug 12 '13 at 23:03
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    Dune by Frank Herbert. pdf search for "But!" – john.dennis Aug 12 '13 at 23:06
  • Defined “grammatically correct”. – tchrist Aug 12 '13 at 23:12
  • @tchrist Did you mean "Define"? – TrevorD Aug 12 '13 at 23:18

This is an emphatic interjection used to indicate dialogical flow and break. In the natural flow of discourse a brief interjection may be used as a sentence-like enunciation. It can help reproduce or translate dramatic pauses or silences.

At any rate, such expressive use of punctuation and fragmentation is generally not acceptable grammatical composition in formal writing.

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    So "But!" is meant to be more dramatic than "But," – john.dennis Aug 12 '13 at 23:42
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    @john.dennis I would think so, definitely in the given passage above. It seems perhaps meant here maybe to express the curt, determined or authoritative "abbreviation" of the woman's dialogue. Although there are of course many readings :) – Joseph Weissman Aug 12 '13 at 23:54

It's what someone (fictionally) said in a tense situation: it isn't required to be 'grammatically correct', anymore that someone would worry about being 'grammatically correct' when shouting at someone in an argument.

But! No! You wouldn't usually write like that in a formal document.

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    Insinuating that a Bene Gesserit might be the least bit burdened or inconvenienced in a tense situation to the point of mishandling language is unforgivable! Especially when said BG is the Reverend Mother! – Mussri Aug 12 '13 at 23:39
  • I don't understand your comment - where did I mention "burdened or inconvenienced". I don't know the book, film, or any characters. I'm merely responding to a question about English language usage, and commenting on the passage as I read it. – TrevorD Aug 12 '13 at 23:44
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    Sorry, I never meant to offend! I'll add that I first read it as a closer "recording" of the spoken dialog than the alternative. That is, the speaker (the Reverend Mother) was stressing the warning too much for merely a "but" and a comma to handle. So it's more of a voice-to-written dialog style choice than an in-universe slip. – Mussri Aug 12 '13 at 23:55

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