After last night's doozy of a Republican debate, Meghan McCain tweeted the following this morning:
Every negative stereotype I have tried to combat for the last 8 years about republicans has been utterly destroyed in the past 9 months.
— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) March 4, 2016
McCain's dim view of the current crop of presidential candidates doesn't support the notion that they are "utterly destroying" negative stereotypes about Republicans, as several people pointed out. Quite the opposite, in fact.
— S.I. Rosenbaum (@sirosenbaum) March 4, 2016
— Tanya C. (@AZTanya) March 4, 2016
"Reinforced" more than "destroyed," but I see her point. https://t.co/NaXnwSoXiE
— Heidi Stevens (@HeidiStevens13) March 4, 2016
Nancy Friedman brought this to our attention, calling it "an odd sort of overnegation." It does have the flavor of misnegations we've discussed in the past (see this list of posts), though it lacks the "combination of modals, negatives, and scalar predicates" that we typically see creating semantic problems. So how to explain the confusion?
To me it feels like McCain is shoehorning a couple of different concepts into one sentence. On the one hand, as the above responses indicate, she would like to convey how all the negative stereotypes she has sought to combat have only been reinforced/confirmed by the primary candidates' antics. But her use of "utterly destroyed" is telling: she must feel that something has been destroyed in the process (perhaps her own party?). I suspect this sort of sentiment was lurking in her mind when she composed the tweet:
All the work I've done trying to combat negative stereotypes about Republicans for the last 8 years has been utterly destroyed in the past 9 months.
Then, in producing the tweet, her efforts in combating negative stereotypes got conflated with the stereotypes themselves. I'd chalk it up to the terse style of Twitter, which can end up curtailing complex ideas. And yet I find it notable that most of McCain's Twitter interlocutors (Twitterlocutors?) seemed to understand exactly what she meant despite a literal reading implying the opposite. As with more classic cases of misnegation, we tend to zero in on the intended meaning of a statement thanks to context, regardless of its surface sense.