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There's a center in Russia that helps victims of sexual assault, and I bought a t-shirt from them with the slogan "make love not violence" but as I started to think about this phrase, it started to seem that it's a clear mistake because it's a mistake to use make instead of do with violence. However, some people think, as this phrase stems from "make love not war", it's possible to change last word to give this phrase a different meaning, and even though it's not grammatically perfect, it wouldn't be considered a real mistake. As I am not sure about that, I'd like to ask all real grammar pros here, please help us know if it's a mistake or not.


What baffled me is that when I searched in quotes on Google, it gave me little to no results in English. Second, I get when it can be used as on object like in the case "make violence great again", but here it seems that its goal was to be used in idiomatic case, but there's no such case. Please, correct me if I'm wrong.

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  • A mistake, by definition, is something made in error that the maker would do differently or correct if given the chance. In this case you are correct that it’s a play on “make love not war” and the t-shirt maker would probably not want to change a thing.
    – Jim
    Aug 18, 2021 at 23:53
  • There is nothing technically wrong with it.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 18, 2021 at 23:55
  • Personally, I never hang my hopes on T-shirts being grammatically accurate. This one is, however, as shown in @Malvolio's answer.
    – RobJarvis
    Aug 19, 2021 at 13:36
  • Malvolio and Laurel disagree about acceptability ('make' and 'violence' are non-colligative [many verbs permit only a subset of all semantically plausible NPs as DOs], which relates strongly to acceptability, and arguably to grammaticality). I can see both sides of the argument – snowclones abound nowadays. I've got to say that the answers here will reflect opinion. Aug 19, 2021 at 14:07

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It is grammatically correct. “Make violence” is a parseable English sentence, a transitive verb in the imperative case, followed by a noun as the direct object.

What it is not is idiomatic. Violence is not “made”, at least in American English. You can make love and you can make war but violence is “done”, “committed”, “perpetrated”, or even “instigated”.

Edit: Tim brings up an interesting case: “Make violence great again.”

This is actually idiomatic: even fo nouns for which “make [noun]” is not used, “make [noun adjective]” still often is.

For example, consider these sentences:

The statute made fraud illegal.

Bernie Madoff made fraud.

The first sentence is fine but the second just wrong (idiomatically wrong — it’s factually correct). As with “violence”, fraud is “committed”.

Strangely, you cannot “do” fraud, or most crimes, but you can “do murder”.

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    It's a quirk of English that we make a distinction between what is "made" and what is "done". Many, if not most, other languages translate both "to make" and "to do" into the same word (German: machen, French: faire, Chinese: Zuo and so on). We just like to make things difficult. To pun for effect is perfectly acceptable in campaign slogans, though.
    – BoldBen
    Aug 19, 2021 at 6:03
  • also, what baffled me is that when i searched in quotes on google, it gave me little to no results in English. and second, i get when it can be used as on object like in the case "make violence great again", but here it seems that its goal was to be used in idiomatic case, but there's no such case. please, correct me if i'm wrong.
    – Tim Sp
    Aug 19, 2021 at 10:12
  • @BoldBen — it’s two plays on words. The first is the eggcorn of “Make x not y”; the second is the abuse of “make” with “violence”. Personally, I don’t think two plays at once works. Aug 20, 2021 at 1:15
  • that's really interesting, thank you very much for the discussion, folks!
    – Tim Sp
    Aug 20, 2021 at 11:53
  • and thank you very much for the answer, @Malvolio!
    – Tim Sp
    Aug 20, 2021 at 12:19
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"Make X not Y" is a snowclone. Your version sounds fine to me, and I can't think of any nouns that wouldn't work grammatically within the expression.

In the following, the author calls it a "sloganclone" due to its popularity as a slogan:

"Make X Not Y" was popularized as "Make love, not war" by the 1960s counterculture and used by John Lennon in a 1973 song. The phrase is what students of language call a "winged word" that "flies" from its original context into the general culture. It became a snowclone when sloganizers began switching out the nouns to create taglines and headlines such as Make Falafel, Not War (International Herald Tribune), Make Wine, Not War (New York Times,  Café Press, and others), Make Levees Not War, and Make Love Not Spam. (Update: Johnny Cupcakes in Boston sells this Make Cupcakes Not War T-shirt.) — Fritinancy

Searching Google for "make love not" showed me many more examples:

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  • thank you very much!
    – Tim Sp
    Aug 20, 2021 at 12:01

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