There is a meme going around in which a game-show contestant is given the phrase:

May the force …

And they finish the phrase with:

… be equal to mass times acceleration.

My question is whether the sentence

May the force be equal to mass times acceleration

is grammatically correct. Would a member of the 'grammar police' point out that this is wrong? i.e., Would it be proper to show a third geek complain about this sentence? And if so, what would they say?

I have a suspicion that the word "may" cannot be used for a statement that is always true. However, maybe there are other problems with it that I am not aware of, as it just feels wrong to me.

Edit: Explanation of the Meme. The phrase "May the Force be with you" is a well known phrase in geek culture, from the Movie Star Wars. However, in that instance "May" is used to express a wish, and it's possible that the force will not be with someone. In the context of physics however, that equation can be assumed to always be true. It is a "given".

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    What/Where do you think could be the an error? Why do you suspect that it may not be grammatical? A more pointed question can elicit a better response. – Kris Dec 23 '13 at 8:30
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    The issue is that the use of the word "May" in a statement that is always true might be incorrect. – PixelArtDragon Dec 23 '13 at 8:32
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    'May all your Christmases be white' has/is a similar structure and causes few concerns for the grammar police. The logic police might, however, take exception to "May the Force be equal to mass times acceleration", as the construction is used to express a wish, not a statement of fact. However, as Force is capitalised, the sentence is obviously meant as surreal humour. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 23 '13 at 8:32
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    How do you know 'force' isn't capitalised then? However, your question 'Is it valid' becomes almost impossible to answer once the surreal humour register is invoked. It rivals poetry in the flexibility allowed – 'Henri Winterman calls it a half-corona. What he calls the other half, I don't know!' [peoplewhois.com/search/name/Henry+Winterman] – Edwin Ashworth Dec 23 '13 at 8:47
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about whether a particular joke promotes proper English. – Rory Alsop Dec 23 '13 at 9:14

"May the force be equal to mass times acceleration" is perfectly grammatical. Your argument hinges on the fact that the force already is equal to mass×acceleration, but that is irrelevant here.

All the grammaticality requires is that a sentence can be parsed, not that it also makes sense or is true. We can even simplify the sentence to "may the force be the force", and simplify it further still to "may X be X"— which quite obviously is always true by definition —, and it still remains perfectly parseable and thus grammatical.

Besides, how do you mean that "in this sentence, no wish is being offered"? Of course there is. There is most clearly a wish. The whole point of the "may X be Y" construction is expressing a wish, and that holds for any and all values of X and Y.

Now, of course if you absolutely need to "fix" the sentence according to your criterion, it is perfectly doable, as you can always say "May the force stay equal to mass times acceleration", or "May the force continue to be equal to mass times acceleration", or what have you. But note how the only thing you are doing there is swapping a verb for a verb. That position requires a verb, and a verb is what you put there, and it makes no difference whatsoever which verb it is. I seem to be linking to "colorless green ideas sleep furiously" quite often these days, but it's most relevant here.

Oh and yes, take anything other than be and you'll be ruining the joke of course. Use the be, Luke.

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    @avi, it doesn't matter what X and Y are, or if they're the same. As long as they are both parseable as nominal entities, the sentence is grammatically correct. Grammar and logic are two different things. I can say “Five plus two equals thirteen” and be perfectly grammatically correct—the fact that I'm factually, mathematically wrong is completely irrelevant to the grammaticality of the sentence. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 23 '13 at 12:53
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    @Janus: I'm solidly behind Reg's answer here, and I do "sorta" subscribe to the idea that grammar and logic are two different things. But bearing in mind people have used green as a verb, we're going to end up saying "colorless green ideas green furiously" is grammatically valid. The boundaries between grammar, logic, and ontology are hazy at best, but we should be careful not to define them in such a way that "grammatical" is a worthless classification. – FumbleFingers Dec 23 '13 at 13:57
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    That is a trick question, avi, because there is no such thing as "proper English". You will need to define it first. And everyone's definition of it will be different. Quite typically, "not proper English" is just a layman's umbrella term for "everything I happen to hate about other people's use of the language". It is weasel wording. Grammar and grammaticality as used by linguists, on the other hand, are established terms with a rather clear definition. See the question I linked above, where an actual linguist explains it in depth. – RegDwigнt Dec 23 '13 at 17:57
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    [cont'd] So, as far as linguistics is concerned, grammar is not about meaning (that's what semantics is about), it is about parse trees, to get back to my original point. Both "furious ideas sleep" and "raining cats and dogs" might not convey a meaning at first, even to a native speaker, but what they do convey is that the person uttering them is indeed speaking English. As opposed to the person uttering "collar dog brown the is". That is, meaning and grammar are really quite orthogonal. See Jabberwocky for another famous example. – RegDwigнt Dec 23 '13 at 18:19
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    It's funny, but it would be better if all the physical terms had articles like the force. May the force be equal to the mass times the acceleration is not only grammatical, but a totally appropriate use of the magical function of may, in that one is hoping for the continued existence of our universe, in which it appears to be the case that F = ma. – John Lawler Dec 23 '13 at 22:22

There are two "mistakes" with the sentence.

  1. "May" in this construct is used to express a wish. However, in this sentence, no wish is being offered.
  2. In the context of physics, in which the second half of the sentence is implied, "the force" does not make sense. Rather, "force" should be used without the preceding "the".

Given that this is a joke however, of the surreal humor variety, these "mistakes" are not mistakes.

Thank you, to the comments for providing me these answers.

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    And neither of them has anything at all to do with grammaticality, which is what the question was about. – Colin Fine Dec 23 '13 at 17:44
  • @ColinFine the question is/was about "proper english" and the possible behavior of the "grammar police". It's not strictly a question about grammar. – avi Dec 23 '13 at 17:47
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    I hadn't noticed that you were answering your own question. I am interested in language, not fashion, so I don't concern myself with "proper english". – Colin Fine Dec 23 '13 at 18:03
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    Humour is allowed in "proper English", including deliberate breaking of rules and guidelines that it would otherwise aid comprehension to follow. – Jon Hanna Jan 23 '14 at 22:42
  • @Jon Hanna the main part of the question is: Would it be proper to show a third geek complain about this sentence? – avi Jan 26 '14 at 6:57

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