An interesting misnegation was broadcast today on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, in a segment under the title "Exactly How Do We Go Forth and Innovate". Liane Hansen quoted president Obama's SOTU passage about innovation and leadership in science and technology, including the phrase "Well, I do not accept second place for the United States of America".
And she asked Rob Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, "The president referred to innovation several times in his speech. What did you think? Was there anything new there?"
His response began:
There wasn't a- a lot new there, I think I- I- what I was most impressed with was when he said "we can't be second to none".
To be "second to none" is to have no superiors. And so if we can't be second to none, then we must have at least one superior — we can't be in first place, or even tied for first place. Rather, we must be in second place, or in some lower place. So literally, what Mr. Atkinson said is inconsistent with what he (and president Obama) meant.
Among the four main causes of misnegation, this is most likely a case of #1, the principle that Larry Horn calls Multiplex negatio ferblondiat: our poor monkey brains just can't deal with complex combinations of certain logical operators.
However, it's also possible that cause #3 is also playing a role here: negative concord is alive and well in English. That's certainly what's happening in the chorus of Jeannie Ortega's song Crowded:
I don't know what you been thinking about me
Did you think this was gonna be that easy?
Hell no, you must be going crazy!
Why don't you get out of my life,
Get out of my sight,
Get off of my back.
Why don't you get back to your world,
Go back to your girl,
I think you owe her.
I know what's going on
I won't be second to none.
Back off 'cause you're crowding my space,
You need to get out of my face.
"I won't be second to nobody" would be the normal way to say "I won't be second to anybody", in the varieties of English that enforce negative concord, and it's natural enough for someone to re-interpret the common collocation "second to none" as involving a more formal instance of the same phrase.
Jeannie Ortega, or whoever wrote Crowded? Sure. Rob Atkinson? Unlikely.
[Hat tip to Jonathan Lundell.]