Not widely under-negated

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Steve Benen, "The challenge of governing in a party of ‘knuckleheads’", MSNBC 11/12/2014:

Two months later, the good news for the Speaker is that his majority has reached new heights. The bad news, the influx of knuckleheads will make Boehner’s job more difficult in ways that are not widely under-appreciated.

The context makes it clear that Mr. Benen actually meant that the difficulties in question are not widely appreciated (or are widely under-appreciated):

The conventional wisdom, especially within the Beltway media, is that congressional Republicans really will – no fooling, this time they mean it – govern responsibly now that they control the House and Senate. The GOP realizes it’s been given an opportunity, the theory goes, and it intends to prove how capable the party is.  

I’m at a bit of a loss to explain why anyone would actually believe this – observable, unambiguous evidence from the last several years points in a very different direction – and every Beltway pundit who predicted responsible Republican governing after the 2010 midterms looks quite foolish four years later.

One more for the misnegation file.

[h/t Keith Barkley]



  1. bratschegirl said,

    November 12, 2014 @ 2:55 pm

    I always wonder whether something such as this is actually a cut-and-paste error, or a change of mind. The first version might have been "not widely appreciated," and then the author changed his mind and went for "widely under-appreciated," and just missed cutting out the "not."

  2. Joe Mc Kay said,

    November 12, 2014 @ 3:20 pm

    It's possible that the author might have better placed "widely" before "not."

    I read it as his meaning that "most everyone understands" that these new Congresspersons are going to be a major pain in the ass for Boehner.

    Joe Mc Kay
    author, "Crazy About Words"

  3. Stephen Hart said,

    November 12, 2014 @ 3:21 pm

    "I always wonder whether something such as this is actually a cut-and-paste error, or a change of mind."

    As a writer and editor, I saw this kind of error frequently. Sometimes it's the writer changing something and not reading it again. Sometimes it's an editor.
    However, misnegation might be a different mental issue.

  4. Aaron Toivo said,

    November 12, 2014 @ 3:45 pm

    I myself have a bad habit of editing informal writings too hastily, and have a specific recent example at hand, in my email outbox.

    I had mis-edited "It does sound like a very uncertain thing." to "It doesn't sound like a very uncertain thing." A line break between the two negation sites cannot have helped; but I do remember thinking, on the brief re-read I gave the email before sending it, "oh whoops, I missed a 'not'".

  5. D.O. said,

    November 12, 2014 @ 3:49 pm

    Just for fun. There is a theoretical possibility that the "knuckleheads will make Boehner’s job more difficult in ways that are … under-appreciated", but not widely enough. That is, there is still some group of people who fails to under-appreciate Mr. Boehner's difficulties.

  6. Rubrick said,

    November 12, 2014 @ 5:34 pm

    On the plus side, the knuckleheads should make his job easier in ways that are widely over-appreciated.

  7. Eric P Smith said,

    November 12, 2014 @ 6:06 pm

    "Widely underappreciated" sounds an odd expression to me, whether negated or not. I wonder if the writer meant "wildly underappreciated".

  8. Jonathan D said,

    November 12, 2014 @ 6:15 pm

    I recently came across another misnegation which seemed fairly clearly a case of a change of mind as bratschegirl suggests. Two Australian former politicians, generally well-spoken, it seems to me, wrote

    It is incredibly difficult to pass this process unless you are anything other than a refugee.

    where they clearly meant either if you are rather than unless you are. or a refugee rather than anything other than a refugee.

  9. maidhc said,

    November 12, 2014 @ 8:08 pm

    Jonathan D:
    I don't know the context, but that example could be right if it described a process designed to reject refugees. Something like the White Australia policy.

  10. J. W. Brewer said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 10:53 am

    It's a misnegation in the specific Australian context. And while one can imagine a process cynically designed to reject asylum claims by bona fide claimants, it would seem peculiar to achieve that end by instead liberally granting asylum to non-bona-fide claimants (non-refugees, in the particular meaning of refugee that seems to be used in the context), which I think is what maidhc's proposed reading would yield.

    What the misnegation as written was trying, but failing, to say is, I think, that the status quo is rigorous enough that it already yields very few false positives (i.e. granting asylum to people who shouldn't qualify for it) and any attempt to make the process stricter will simply increase the number of false negatives (i.e. denying asylum to people who should qualify for it).

  11. BZ said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 2:50 pm

    Could this have been a change from "not widely understood" with the "under" part somehow surviving the change to "appreciated"?

  12. Marta said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 5:23 pm

    @Eric P Smith:
    That appears not to be the case. The sentence has now been corrected to "… ways that are widely under-appreciated."

  13. Jonathan D said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 6:34 pm

    maidhc, yes, there could be a plausible argument that a refugee assessment process is harder to pass for those who are most genuinely refugees, whether or not it was designed with that aim. But the context is as J. W. Brewer says – Fraser and Jones are arguing against changes which are purportedly meant to reject more false claimants, and say "The current Migration Act already contains a robust legal process for determining whether someone is owed protection from harm."

  14. Nathan Myers said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 1:56 am

    I frequently encounter variations on "I miss not having it". Greg Bear, a writer of substantial experience, put two in a row in the introduction to a compilation of his short stories, and his editor evidently didn't notice.

  15. Gert Loveday said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 7:46 pm

    Private Eye has had some fun with "underestimate" along similar lines.

    "It's difficult to underestimate his skill…"
    and even, I think, an example of "misunderestimate".

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