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I came across the sentence "I do the worthy sacrifice" in the lyrics of the song "Great War" by Sabaton, and was bothered by the use of "do" in this sentence.

I would have phrased it as "I make the worthy sacrifice", but now I'm not sure: are both versions of the sentence correct?

Can you "do" a sacrifice, or are they always made?
Or is it my phrasing that is incorrect?

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  • I can't find any other occurrences where 'sacrifice/s' is twinned with the verb do. 'Make' and 'offer' are normal. Song lyrics tend to have less regard for standard colligation and grammar, and if only negative answers follow, I'd say this is off-topic as not addressing standard usage. Nov 2, 2021 at 11:44
  • As this is at least the second time in as many days that it's come up, it's worth highlighting: Song lyrics are poetry, and as such there is no rule that they be grammatical or even make sense. It's worth editing this question to make clear that you're not wondering whether the artist was justified in using the phrase, but whether it would be valid if used out of an artistic context. Nov 2, 2021 at 12:36
  • Even song lyrics can be poorly worded. This is an example of that.
    – Lambie
    Nov 2, 2021 at 13:50
  • If it's just grammar that you're concerned about, note that people can "do" the hokey pokey. Just about any verb would be grammatical in that position - run, present, share, etc. The verb you choose depends on what you want to express.
    – Lawrence
    Nov 2, 2021 at 18:15
  • @Lawrence Yes, but you can't make the hokey pokey.
    – Lambie
    Nov 2, 2021 at 18:19

3 Answers 3

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The word "do" is sometimes used to mean to take part in a process or activity.

One might say "James wasn't very polite today" and someone might reply "James doesn't do polite". The usual phrase is "be polite". To say somebody doesn't "do polite" suggests he makes not the slightest effort to be polite. Politeness is an alien concept to him.

One may cook lunch or eat lunch, but sometimes people say "do lunch" meaning meet up and have lunch, or to take part in the lunching process.

If somebody says she doesn't "do Christmas" she will be understood as saying she does not participate in any of the observances common to the season. It is wider than saying one does not celebrate or observe Christmas.

In the song lyrics, the soldier could have said that he would make a sacrifice, the sacrifice of his life. To make a sacrifice, or offer or pay a sacrifice, are common ways of expressing the act of voluntarily giving up something. The word "do" is used instead.This, I think, is intended to mean that the soldier will take part in the whole concept. He will take part in the "worthy sacrifice". It prompts us to ask the question, in what way will he "do" the sacrifice? What part will he play?

He, the soldier is the victim. He is the sacrifice. His country has decided that his life is a price worth paying for the greater good. To have said "make a sacrifice" would imply it was of his own volition. Perhaps it partly was but perhaps rather than make a sacrifice he might have said be a sacrifice.

By using the phrase "do the worthy sacrifice" the lyricist is, I believe, inviting us to understand he was playing his part in the sacrificial process which the powers that be deemed worthy. His role was dual, both priest and victim. To have said "make a sacrifice" or "be a sacrifice" would give only half the picture.

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Here is the full verse of the song, by Swedish metallers, Sabaton

I do my duties, pay the price I’ll do the worthy sacrifice I know my deeds are not in vain

  1. They are Swedish, so they are forgiven. [said jokingly but seriously]
  2. It would be better with make but no one told them.

Sometimes things are simpler than they seem.

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I don't this is formally correct, because it could be parsed thus, I sacrifice the worthy. Although unusual a word-order it is, if "do" is parsed as augment (no, I do understand), this is due to the fact that "do" is not typically parsed as modal or auxilary. Compare for example, I have the task complete(d), or with object raising I want you to .... The details of this are more involved than that, but the short of it is that the phrase strikes me as an archaising inuendo, I (do) sacrifice the worthy--which translates word for word two German with a more conservative syntax. This syntaxmust have been present in English in the first place when to-support, do-support, present participles and in parallel the gerund have developed (which is prerequisite for the verb--see below--to develop into the noun you are reading). It is therefore not really relevant for English language and usage.

The unusual do support is otherwise difficult to justify. "make" does not work much better, as you can make dinner, which, for example, says nothing about consumption. The most appropriate verb seems to be offer, if the sacrifice is an offering. "do" is matching well with "-fice", from fic-o "(I) do", with which it is cognate. The definition for sacrifico is literally "I make or offer a sacrifice; I sacrifice" (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/sacrifico#Latin), so you may have a point. Further more, "perform" is a valid option (https://lsj.gr/index.php?search=sacrifium&title=Special%3ASearch&profile=default&fulltext=1).

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