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Overnegation: don't fail to miss it! Login/Join
 
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Picture of bethree5
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I thought it might be fun to have a place to collect flagrant overnegations seen or imagined, now that we have goofy's clearcut & quotable clarification of double negatives, to wit:

quote:
There are at least 3 kinds of things that are called "double negatives".

1) the standard English use of two negatives to make a positive, as in "not unlikely" or "I don't believe that X didn't happen" - which means "I believe that X happened."

2) Negative concord, where two negatives reinforce each other as in "I can't get no satisfaction". This is nonstandard, but I don't see how it is unclear.

3) overnegation, like "Don't fail to miss it", where there is one negative too many. Here, "fail to miss" means "miss". Language Log has a lot to say about overnegation.


Here's one I spotted this morning in a report on a recent Scott Walker interview:

Romney recently confirmed he would not enact a ban on insurance discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions if elected president.
 
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Romney recently confirmed he would not enact a ban on insurance discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions if elected president.

I don't see that that is overnegation. It requires careful reading, but the meaning is clear. It could possibly have been phrased more simply, though. For instance, the writer could have said, Romney recently denied he would enact a ban ...


Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.
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Here's one from a station ID slogan by Dave, a cable and satellite channel here.
quote:
DAVE Do you not like it.

An announcer speaks the words with an upward inflection at the end, which makes it sound interrogative, but the sentence on screen has no question mark, just a stop at the end.


Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.
Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes)
 
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quote:
Here, "fail to miss" means "miss". Language Log has a lot to say about overnegation.

Doesn't it mean "hit"?

How about "Romeny says he won't ban..."?


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Proofreader:

Doesn't it mean "hit"?



There are many examples where is clearly supposed to mean "miss", For instance:

quote:

Miss Goodhandy doesn't fail to miss an opportunity to humiliate Steve, and gives him a few good swats with the jockstrap's thick elastic waistband.

Although his attendance at school was still very poor, Stanley never failed to miss a movie at the local theaters.

Canceling a few flights here and there seems like a good trade-off because the results of failing to miss a real threat are so severe.

This is sure to be a killer tournament, don't fail to miss it!
 
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Obviously illogical, said Mr. Spock.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Proofreader:
Obviously illogical, said Mr. Spock.


There's no reason to expect language to be logical. Having said that, in standard English two negatives multiply into a positive, which is why overnegation is a mistake. But I think it's interesting that I often don't notice overnegations at first. As Mark Liberman says, why are negations so easy to fail to miss?

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quote:
I don't see that that is overnegation. It requires careful reading, but the meaning is clear.
Ah, arnie. You just have to know Scott Walker to know that it's completely illogical. Wink
 
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Yes I see that my 'Romney recently confirmed..' quote is not 'overnegation', because the pluses & minuses add up correctly to express the intended meaning. It's the 'careful reading' I don't like, feels like I'm doing a math problem instead of reading. Perhaps it quaifies as 'too dang much negation.'

Here's my re-write: Romney recently confirmed he's fine with denying insurance to those with pre-existing conditions. Wink
 
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Of course, apart from its overnegation, the Romney quote is a typical example of politician-speak - designed to confuse rather than clarify.

And I wonder how he would feel if it were him or one of his loved ones who was unable to get insurance because of some pre-exixting condition?

Thank goodness I live in England, where the NHS will treat me, without charge, for as long as I live, regardless of any physical conditions I might have, pre-existing or acquired


Richard English
 
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quote:
Romney recently confirmed he would not enact a ban on insurance discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions if elected president.


is certainly an example of confusing negation because without knowing anything about Romney it's impossible to know if he means what he says or has made an error.

Being able to decide if he is for or against insurance discrimination relies on actually already knowing the answer.
 
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It's classic case of a politician making a statement that causes the listener to mistakenly think he's on their side.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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Oh, this political double-speak is really very simple! It was described by a German, Max Weber, who called it the protestant work ethic,invented by a French religious zealot, Jean Cauvin, went to England where they started calling him John Calvin, ended up in both England and Scotland, then the whole lot of them got deported to the American colonies, where they started "speaking in tongues in church, then talking that same gibberish in public. There, very simple! So, y'see, it's all the fault of the English! If you'd shot the lot of them instead of deporting them, we'd have much less to complain about. Big Grin


It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. -J. Krishnamurti
 
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quote:
Originally posted by bethree5:

Romney recently confirmed he would not enact a ban on insurance discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions if elected president.


Hold on... in what way is this sentence an example of a politician trying to confuse us with double-speak? This sentence was written by a journalist! We don't know what the politician's actual words were!
 
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Basicaslly, that's what he said. The journalist appears to have merely omitted the quotes since part is a paraphrase..


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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How do you know?
 
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quote:
Basicaslly, that's what he said. The journalist appears to have merely omitted the quotes since part is a paraphrase..

But why is that journalist paraphrasing something that he said at another time?

There's also not any indication of the question he was asked (if there was one). He might have been asked something like "Can you confirm you would not enact a ban on insurance discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions if elected president?" If he answered "Yes" it would have been a journalist who produced the convoluted sentence.


Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.
Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes)
 
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If he answered "Yes" it would have been a journalist who produced the convoluted sentence.

Mit Romney never gives a "Yes" or "No" answer to any question, no matter how simple.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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Bain Capitol? The French word for "bath" is bain. Invest with Mitt and end up under water. Big Grin


It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. -J. Krishnamurti
 
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Romney would like to have a Bain Capitol to work in but he worked for Bain Capital.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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quote:
It's the 'careful reading' I don't like, feels like I'm doing a math problem instead of reading. Perhaps it quaifies as 'too dang much negation.'
Bethree, you have said it perfectly. That is exactly why I don't like complicated double negatives. Interestingly, though, just the other day I used an uncomplicated one (I don't recall exactly what it was) for emphasis so sometimes I think double negatives can be helpful.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:Bethree, you have said it perfectly. That is exactly why I don't like complicated double negatives. Interestingly, though, just the other day I used an uncomplicated one (I don't recall exactly what it was) for emphasis so sometimes I think double negatives can be helpful.


But which kind of double negative? If we're going to talk about this, why not be specific?
 
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I'll be honest, I don't find those categories helpful so I haven't focused on them. I think about double negatives as complicated (such as the above one with several negatives) or more simple. The latter ones I find can add emphasis, such as: "That is not an uncommon nursing major." That is somewhat different from: "That is a common nursing major."

However, since you asked about the categories, here are my thoughts. I didn't remember specifically what I said (above post), but it likely was from your first category. The second category I never use and don't see used much. The third category is probably the one that I not uncommonly (ha!) find complex and therefore hard to figure out.

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I don't find it helpful to lump all double negatives together when there are at least three different kinds, each with a distinct meaning and usage.

Anyway, here's another overnegation, from Hemingway's A Moveable Feast:

quote:
Scott was lying with with his eyes closed, breathing slowly and carefully and, with his waxy color and his perfect features, he looked like a little dead crusader. I was getting tired of the literary life, if this was the literary life that I was leading, and already I missed not working and I felt the death loneliness that comes at the end of every day that is wasted in your life. I was very tired of Scott and of this silly comedy, but I found the waiter and gave him the money to buy a thermometer and a tube of aspirin and ordered two citron pressés and two double whiskies.

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I don't find this writing all the easy to read - but I only saw one double negative - which didn't seem excessive to me.


Richard English
 
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quote:
I don't find this writing all the easy to read
It's hard to tell with just this much text.

However, I can't even find one double negative. What am I missing?
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Richard English:
I don't find this writing all the easy to read - but I only saw one double negative - which didn't seem excessive to me.


I have bolded the bit in question.

It's overnegation - "not working" should be "working". I don't know about excessive, but it is a mistake. And isn't it interesting that it doesn't seem wrong on first reading?
 
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That does depend on context again. Maybe the narrator was lazy and preferred doing nothing to working? He might have felt that being a wage slave was wasting his life...


Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.
Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes)
 
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Hemingway is fed up with having to babysit Scott Fitzgerald. He feels like he is wasting his life. He misses working.

But if that passage doesn't give you enough context, read the Language Log post I linked to which provides more context.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by goofy:
quote:
Originally posted by Richard English:
I don't find this writing all the easy to read - but I only saw one double negative - which didn't seem excessive to me.


I have bolded the bit in question.

It's overnegation - "not working" should be "working". I don't know about excessive, but it is a mistake. And isn't it interesting that it doesn't seem wrong on first reading?

This is the double negative I spotted and it seems fine to me.

Hemingway is saying that he is missing the leisure he had previously had when he wasn't working; it seems a perfectly reasonable way of phrasing this concept. He could have been missing working, whilst he was retired; here he is missing not working because he is presumably no longer retired. I don't believe he was missing working - although without reading the full passage I can't say whether the double negative was intended or simply a mistake.

As I wrote earlier, these kinds of double negatives are common enough in UK English.


Richard English
 
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He's not working. He's traveling with Fitzgerald from Paris to Lyon and back.

If I felt the death loneliness that comes at the end of every day that is wasted, I would miss working. But I guess that's just me.

Even more context: read the whole chapter.
 
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Yes, I agree, goofy. That is overnegation. As you say, it doesn't seem wrong on first reading.


Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.
Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes)
 
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quote:
Originally posted by goofy:
He's not working. He's traveling with Fitzgerald from Paris to Lyon and back.

If I felt the death loneliness that comes at the end of every day that is wasted, I would miss working. But I guess that's just me.

Even more context: read the whole chapter.


If he is working, then the sense of the sentence is wrong and the word "not" is incorrect. Having said which, although the sentence does not say what he meant it to say, and in that sense there is a mistake, grammatically it is fine.


Richard English
 
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That's the whole point. Over-negation is rarely grammatically wrong in the sense that it leads to a sentence outside the normal grammatical rules of English. The problem with it can be that without knowing what the author intended to mean it can be impossible to work out if the sentence says what was intended or, as is the case here, the opposite of what was intended.
 
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How about this one? Bob should recognise it:
quote:
"Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise."


Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.
Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes)
 
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quote:
Hemingway is saying that he is missing the leisure he had previously had when he wasn't working; it seems a perfectly reasonable way of phrasing this concept.
If that's what wss meant, Richard is right that it was understandable, though I don't see any double negative at all in that case. If goofy is right, there clearly is overnegation. I will have to read the chapter.

Arnie, yours is impossible...and I know what it's from too! Wink
 
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quote:
I missed not working

This is the double negative - although it's not all that blatant. "Missed" is a negative word in that it expresses a negative concept - a failure to hit, say. "Not" is also a negative word and thus the two words together are a double negative - which way or may not be correct, depending on the concept being expressed.

"I enjoyed not working" is a single negative; "I didn't enjoy not working is a double negative.


Richard English
 
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So, following your logic, Richard, what would "I didn't miss not working" be? Is it a triple negative?


Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.
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I would think it's a triple negative, yes. It means that the writer is glad to be working again after a period of not working.

Of course, every time you add a negative the sentence gets harder to follow.


Richard English
 
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I wouldn't consider "miss" to be included in a "double negative" connotation, thus the misunderstanding.
 
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In Jennifer Stewart's newsletter today - http://www.write101.com the following phrase appears: "...the US government declaration offers no conclusive proof to deny the existence of mermaids either...".

Would not the sentence, " "We can't be sure whether or not mermaids exist" have been both more elegant and more readily understandable?


Richard English
 
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Hmm, usually I agree with double negatives making things more cloudy, but I kinda like it in this instance.
 
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Language Log:

quote:
Stephen Lord, who is the GAO's director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues, testified about the matter Wednesday in Rogers' subcommittee. Rogers asked him: "Isn't it true that, based on your report, the Transportation Security Administration cannot assure the American people that foreign terrorists are not in this country learning how to fly airplanes, yes or no?"

Mr Lord responded: "At this time, no."
 
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Good grief. As Geoff Pullum puts it,
quote:
Ye gods, that sort of crazy multiple negation makes me afraid, very afraid, of having to take the witness stand.


Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.
Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes)
 
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objection, your honor, on the grounds of incomprehensibilty!
 
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Goofy, that's just what I mean about the confusion. In that instance, I would have likely been held in contempt of court for refusing to answer that "yes" or "no" question. Wink

I did love Pullum's explanation, though. That Stephen Lord is one smart man to answer the question so quickly. I would have had to have gone through Pullum's explanation in my mind.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
Goofy, that's just what I mean about the confusion.


Yeah, I know, it is confusing. It's too many negatives for our brains to handle. But surely you can see that it is something completely different from, say "I didn't see nothing."
 
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quote:
The 'cannot' = 'must not' interpretation ('Don't underestimate the implications of the Famine') certainly doesn't work in this context. It would be strangely defensive to introduce a landmark work of scholarship by mentioning doubts about its significance, even if only in dismissing them.
Why doesn't it work?
 
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