Archive for negation

Not anybody who doesn't think it won't

Professor Pauline Jacobson of Brown University asks Language Log whether Dana Bash, CNN's chief congressional correspondent, is saying the government will shut down or that it won't. Language Log likes to go back to primary sources, so here is a verified direct quotation from Ms. Bash on this topic that appeared on the website of Fox6Now.com in Milwaukee:

"I've not talked to anybody here who doesn't think it's a very, very big possibility, even Republicans, that the government won't shut down — even for a short time," Bash said.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

No small wonder

This example of hypernegation (it that's what it is) was sent to me by Karl Zimmer:

From a review by Hilton Als of the play "The Madrid" in The New Yorker (3/11/2013; p. 76):
In a recent interview, Falco pointed out how infrequently she's offered "first dibs" on new plays. She explained, "I get offered them, but only after other people turn them down." Given that Falco is, artistically speaking, the heir to the late Maureen Stapleton–another toweringly talented actress who insisted on bare truth, not truthiness, in her performances– it's no small wonder that producers consider her a commercial risk…

This looks more to me like a blend of no wonder and small wonder than it does of negation-gone-wild. But of course that's just a guess.

Comments (19)

Don't be discouraged from not voting

Ben Yagoda spotted a nice case of overnegation on NPR's "Morning Edition" earlier today, when Renee Montagne interviewed political science professor Michael McDonald about early voting. After explaining that Obama was leading in early voting in Nevada, McDonald said, "I don't want to discourage people from not voting today."

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)

This is not to say that I don't think that it isn't illogical

In November of 2000, Ted Briscoe interviewed Gerald Gazdar about the history of "Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar". In the course of that interview, Gazdar said:

That is not to say that I don't think that corpus work can't be useful, even in theoretical syntax.

,,,by which he meant to say that he thinks that corpus work can be useful, even in theoretical syntax.

If you apply your intuitions to the problem of building this sentence up out of its parts, I think you'll find that what he said actually ought to be logically the opposite of what he meant, at least in the forms of English that lack negative concord.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (24)

I can do pretty much whatever minus not being stupid

I just really like this sentence from the Baltimore Orioles' Nolan Reimold, who is recovering slowly from a herniated disk in his neck. "I can do pretty much whatever minus not being stupid." I find that a great sentence that could be used in a lot of situations, e.g. retirement …

No big linguistic point. Just three nice little dialectal variants in a row — that use of "whatever"; "minus" in place of "except for", and the inclusion of "not" in such a context. I think they've all been discussed in posts at one time or another, but this three-in-a-row is a gem, plus [oh, there's a 'plus'; I'm infected] I love the sentiment.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (37)

Not true that they cannot say they aren't?

Levi Montgomery writes to me:

I have read the question in this report (TSA Let 25 Illegal Aliens Attend Flight School Owned by Illegal Alien, CNS News, 18 July 2012) at least a dozen times now, and I'm not sure which answer means what (although I freely admit the intent is clear, both from the questioner and from the answerer). I thought you'd like to see it.

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."

Ye gods, that sort of crazy multiple negation makes me afraid, very afraid, of having to take the witness stand.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

"I actually saw Khrushchev not bang his shoe"

I just found that sentence in the first footnote to William Taubman's "Khrushchev: The Man and his Era" (2003). It's a great example of a "negative event" – we call them "negative events" with scare quotes because it remains controversial whether there are any such things. How can not doing something be an event?

First a clarification: I realize from Googling that there's a completely different sense of "negative event" which is more common and not controversial at all – that's something bad that happens to you, an event with "negative" effects. What linguists and philosophers worry about are sentences or phrases containing negation that seem to denote events, like the one that heads this post.

We chatted a bit about it around the water cooler at Language Log Plaza yesterday, and David Beaver contributed the following nice link:

http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2010/01/11/nikita-khrushchev-and-his-shoe/

The discussion there and in Taubman's footnote of the events at the UN General Assembly on October 13, 1960 makes it clear that on the one hand, Khrushchev's banging his shoe on the desk became famous and iconic, and that on the other hand, there is a real dispute about whether it actually happened. That seems to be one circumstance in which something not happening can be described as an event.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (51)

Misnegation of the month

From Lauri Karttunen (via Arnold Zwicky):

I have come to realize that there are a lot of examples on the web of the type "not want to not X" that seem to say the opposite of what they mean. Here are a few:

She failed to give the patient CPR and turned an ambulance away in the mistaken belief that the elderly woman’s had said she did not want not to be resuscitated. (Cambridge, UK, newspaper article)

If a guest does not want not to be disturbed they need only to place the 'Do Not Disturb" sign on the door and their wishes will be respected. (Florida motel)

In the first case, the mistaken belief was that the elderly woman did not want to be resuscitated. In the second case it should say "If a guest does not want to be disturbed …"

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (39)

Prophylactic over-negation

Almost the end of January, and not a single Language Log reader hasn't failed to complain about the lack of over-negation in any of this year's posts. But here's some naughtily nutty negation anyway:

"It's not that I don't doubt the sincerity of their desire to protect the talent. And believe it or not, we have the same ambition," Christian Mann, general manager of Evil Angel Productions who also serves on the porn industry's Free Speech Coalition, said last week after the council's vote. "We just don't believe their way is the best way." (Associated PressLA mayor signs law requiring condoms in porn films, Jan. 24, 2012; widely syndicated story.)

Hmm. That's a curious lack of non-self-doubt. So does it mean Mann does in fact doubt the sincerity  of "their" desire to protect the talent? I don't think so.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (13)

Another Newt "not"

Once again on the Newt negation watch… In last night's Republican debate in Iowa, Gingrich defended his previous support of an individual mandate for health care insurance. He explained that he held this stance back in 1993, when he was combating so-called "Hillarycare":

I frankly was floundering, trying to find a way to make sure that people who could afford it were paying their hospital bills, while still leaving an out for libertarians to not buy insurance. (video)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (24)

Newt's not not engaging

ABC is proving itself to be the Newt not network. Earlier this month, Newt Gingrich provided a puzzling (but technically correct) instance of negation in an interview with Jake Tapper of ABC News: "It's very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I'm going to be the nominee." Last night, after the Republican presidential debate in Iowa sponsored by ABC News, political analyst Matthew Dowd made a surprising observation on Gingrich's performance:

There was not a single attack tonight that he did not not engage on.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (6)

Newt's negation

Geoff Pullum is, of course, right on the money when he points out that our frequent difficulties in interpreting multiple negations indicate that we are all "semantic over-achievers, trying to use languages that are quite a bit beyond our intellectual powers." Or, as Mark Liberman once put it, negation often overwhelms our "poor monkey brains." (For more, see Mark's master list of Language Log posts on misnegation woes.) Yesterday, Newt Gingrich provided a nice example of the trickiness of negation: even though what he said was technically correct, it was still difficult for some to parse.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (24)

Multiple negation: over-reaching again

Following up on Never fails: semantic over-achievers, Language Log reader John O'Meara told me that he recently received a gift voucher on which one of the legally binding conditions is the following:

6. Cash nor credit will not be issued for balance of gift voucher not redeemed in full.

He has absolutely no clear sense of what this does (or does not) entitle him to. Nor does Language Log. Not. One stares at it, and although one can guess at what was probably supposed to be the policy, one fails to extract a statement of it from the above wording using just the syntax and semantics of one's native language. At least, that's how it is for me (your mileage may differ). In particular, if you make the initial noun phrase grammatical by prefixing neither, you get something that is almost certainly the opposite of what was meant (Neither cash nor credit will not be issued for balance of gift voucher not redeemed in full means that both cash and credit will be issued).

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

Never fails: semantic over-achievers

I am quite certain that the reviewer kiwi78 was trying to do good things for the Nahm restaurant in Knightsbridge, a district of south-west London. But the comment left at the Bookatable.com site's page about Nahm actually said that the restaurant "never fails to disappoint."

Think about it for a moment. For the restaurant, that's not good, is it? Disappointing. It couldn't fail to disappoint.

But look at the full context of kiwi78's remarks:

Nahm never fails to disappoint on flavour & service. Dishes are complex yet superbly balanced & always beautifully presented. If you're new or not confident with Thai food the staff are very attentive & knowledgeable.

It's supposed to be a great review. And the restaurant took it for that: the management has started including kiwi78's comment in its advertising material!

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

Watching the deceptive

After almost a month, I'm finally following up on the results of the single-question surveys that I asked Language Log readers to participate in. Each survey received an overwhelming 1500+ responses, and I didn't realize that I needed a "pro" (= "paid") account on SurveyMonkey in order to view more than the first 100. I owe special thanks to Mohammad Mehdi Etedali, to whom I transfered the surveys and who kindly sent me the overall percentages.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (65)