Archive for Misnegation

Did she smile or not?

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Nor does it mean that he doesn't lack negatives

Or does it? Bret Stephens, "Bush 41, Trump, and American Decline", NYT 4/26/2018:

These contrasts don’t mean that Bush was without blemish: As Meacham notes, there were political misjudgments and calculated concessions to ambition on the long path to power. Nor does it mean that Trump doesn’t lack his own kind of strengths, not the least of which is his loudly declared indifference to elite opinion.

My semantic interpreter dies  of negation poisoning after about the eighth word of that last sentence. But I think there's one too many negatives in it, since a version with one negative removed seem to mean what Mr. Stephens had in mind to communicate:

Nor does it mean that Trump lacks his own kind of strengths

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"Not with(out) at least superficial plausibility"

Undernegation of the week, from a reader down under — Jack Waterford, "AFP bloodhounds still just sniffing about", The Canberra Times 3/31/2018:

The AFP raids were at the behest of the Registered Organisations Commission, which claims to have feared that the AWU might be in the process of destroying documents relevant to a civil investigation. The AWU claims, not with at least superficial plausibility, that the raids were politically motivated and for improper purposes.

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An overnegation that isn't hard to miss

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Freudian misnegation of the year

Leonardo Boiko writes "It's still mid-February, but I feel like this is a strong contender nonetheless".

The source: Joshua Rhett Miller, "Pastor says nothing weird was going on with bound naked man in car", New York Post 2/13/2018.

The key phrase: “I won’t deny that he began to take his clothes off and propositioned me, but I will deny, on a stack of Bibles with God as my witness, that I did nothing".

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"If I don't get into it not wanting to win…"

During today's episode of "Angelo Cataldi and the Morning Gang" on WIP sports talk radio, there was an interview with Doug Pederson, the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

One exchange caught my linguistic (as opposed to sports fan) attention:


Angelo Cataldi: Doug, did you ever think this would happen to you?
Doug Pederson:  I did.
Angelo Cataldi: You did.
Doug Pederson: I did.
I did.
I did, I didn't think it was going to happen in year two
you know, Angelo, listen, i- if- if-
if I don't get into this business
not wanting to win the Super Bowl,
I'm going to go do something else,
you know?

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"I don't think there isn't a darn thing I can do"

RichG sent in a link to Matt Pierce and David Montero, "Warrants in Las Vegas mass shooting reveal name of additional 'person of interest", LA Times 1/30/2018 [emphasis added]:

Authorities were looking into an additional "person of interest" following the mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people and wounded hundreds of others, according to search warrants unsealed by a Nevada judge Tuesday.

Though Stephen Paddock has been identified as the lone gunman in the Oct. 1 massacre, and authorities had been looking at his girlfriend, Marilou Danley, the court mistakenly failed to redact another name from the warrants: Douglas Haig.

That is the name of a Mesa, Ariz., ammunition dealer who runs a website called Specialized Military Ammunition, which touts itself as "your source for premium, MILSPEC, tracer and incendiary ammunition in popular military calibers," including ammunition that "ignites diesel and kerosene." (Officials have said that Paddock shot at aerial fuel tanks during the attack, although they did not ignite.) […]

The Las Vegas Review-Journal was the only publication to receive the mistaken document, which identified Haig as a "person of interest." It's the first public acknowledgment by law enforcement that a third person had been investigated in relation to the crime.

District Court Judge Elissa Cadish apologized for the error and issued a gag order on any publication of the original document that included the name.

"I ordered them redacted and thought they were redacted not only to protect the investigation, but because of concerns about possible danger to this individual," Cadish said. "Unfortunately, I think the reality is now that it's up online and I don't think there isn't a darn thing I can do to take it off."

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Learning not to avoid

Joanna Klein, "Swatting at Mosquitoes May Help You Avoid Bites, Even if you Miss", NYT 1/25/2018:

If you keep swatting at a mosquito, will it leave you alone?

Some scientists think so. But it depends.

Some blood meals are worth a mosquito risking its life. But if there’s a more attractive or accepting alternative to feed from, a mosquito may move on to that someone or something instead. 

An interesting story. But this is Language Log, not Insect Learning Log, so let's focus on the prominently-displayed picture caption, which reads:

A new study suggests that mosquitoes might learn not to avoid people who swat at them, by recognizing their smell.

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Not, only, unless, if, whatever . . .

The morning mail brings an apparent instance of misnegation — Daniel Boffey, "May faces tougher transition stance from EU amid Norway pressure", The Guardian 1/16/2018:

The EU also insists that the UK will only continue to enjoy the benefits of trade agreements with non-EU countries unless “authorised” by Brussels.

Given the context, English grammar, and general principles of rational interpretation, the author must have meant either

  1. the UK will not continue to enjoy the benefits of trade agreements with non-EU countries unless “authorised” by Brussels
  2. the UK will only continue to enjoy the benefits of trade agreements with non-EU countries if “authorised” by Brussels

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"You can't help but not be worried"

Here's Lulu Garcia-Navarro in discussion with Marvin Odum, Houston's chief recovery officer, about whether the Federal government will actually come through with the funds promised for disaster recovery after last summer's floods ("Houston's Recovery", Weekend Edition Sunday 12/10/2017). He describes returning from Washington without a clear idea of whether the promises will be honored:

Garcia-Navarro: You came back worried, though.
Odum: You can't help but not be worried.

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"Understatement" misstatement

Here's the opening to Dahlia Lithwick and Scott Pilutik's piece for Slate, "Lies My Client Told Me" (10/31/17), about a judge ruling that Paul Manafort is not entitled to attorney-client privilege:

It’s not an overstatement to characterize the attorney-client privilege as the cornerstone of criminal law, an inviolable right that can and must withstand all manner of legal aggression.

There's an asterisk after the sentence, however, indicating that a correction has been made. At the bottom of the article, a note reads:

*Correction, Oct. 31, 2017: This piece originally misstated that it would not be an understatement to characterize the attorney-client privilege as the cornerstone of criminal law. It would not be an overstatement.

It's remarkable that a correction was made in the first place, since misnegations involving understate(ment) are so common that they hardly even get noticed these days. Last August, Mark Liberman shared a tweet by Los Angeles Times correspondent Matt Pearce in which he quickly corrected his use of "difficult to understate," but such second thoughts are exceedingly rare. Again and again, the sort of thing that one would want to identify as "not an overstatement" is routinely called "not an understatement," at Slate and elsewhere.

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'Difficult to understate' correction

Here the source of the inversion corrects it within a few minutes:

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(Not) not too crazy

Tom Recht sent in a link to a story in N.Y. Magazine with the headline "Trump is not too crazy to fire the special prosecutor". His accompanying note suggested that

…the intended but not quite computable meaning is "it isn't the case that Trump isn't crazy enough to fire the special prosecutor".

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