"There's not a player who doesn't deserve it less"

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Cited by Nick Miller, "Stuart Bingham shocks Shaun Murphy in World Snooker Championship final", The Guardian 5/5/2015:

Misnegation or (un-)compliment?

[h/t Paweł Nowak]

Update: Ian Preston provides a link to the awards ceremony — audio of the relevant segment:

We can also hear that what he said was actually "There's not a player alive who doesn't deserve it any less than Stuart does." As far as I can see (which in this case is about an inch and a half), this statement is true if there is at least one player alive who deserves it less than Stuart does.


  1. Laura Morland said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 1:02 am

    Since Murphy lost the final to Bingham, does that make it a Freudian misnegation?

  2. Jason Crawford said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 1:56 am

    If you take the negations literally, it's an (awkwardly phrased) compliment, no? “There's not a player who doesn't deserve it less” = “No one deserves it more.”

  3. Eli Nelson said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 2:35 am

    Isn't this a correct negation and a compliment?
    "There's not a player who doesn't deserve it less"
    ="There's not a player who deserves it more"
    ="Bingham deserves it the most".
    Where's the misnegation here; is my monkey brain misleading me?

  4. Lukas said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 3:10 am

    Yep, intuitively, I read this as an insult, but when I parse it, it's actually a compliment.

  5. Jen said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 3:37 am

    'No player doesn't deserve it less'
    is presumably the opposite of
    'No player deserves it less' (insult)
    which would make it a compliment

    'No player deserves it more' = compliment
    'No player doesn't deserve it more' = insult
    'No player doesn't deserve it less' = compliment?

    Which was it meant to be?!

  6. Ian Preston said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 5:39 am

    The award ceremony is online here. The compliment in full begins at about 0:54: "As a bit of a snooker geek as well as Stuart, although he's probably a bigger one than I am, erm, and that's saying something, erm, there's not a player alive that doesn't deserve it any less than Stuart does." There seems to be a pause before "any less" where he might be trying to work out whether he has overnegated.

  7. Stan Carey said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 6:38 am

    Watching this last night I had to convert it in my head ("doesn't deserve it any less" → "deserves it any more") to check. Murphy was gracious and well-spoken in defeat, but a stack of negatives like this could undo anyone.

  8. flow said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 7:37 am

    Is it this what they call a mis-no-negation?

  9. Andrew Bay said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 8:31 am

    After de-negating it simply, it goes from
    "(There's not a player) who (doesn't deserve) it less."
    "(All other Players) who (do deserve) it less"
    Or more naturally, "Everybody but the winner deserves it less."

    But, I keep reparsing it out to basically means that "All the other players deserve it more." I think I keep trying to make the first part be an empty set of people, which forces me to interpret the second part as being a false statement. It is just so awkward that I can't figure out how to write out my garden path without it containing an obvious error.


  10. Guy said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 11:30 am

    This discussion is giving me flashbacks to when my teacher explained that double negatives were "wrong" on the theory that they could only be read as two successive applications of negations (first or second grade, I think). Inspired by this reasoning, I produced a number of what I thought were well-formed multiply negative constructions that meant what I wanted them to on the next writing assignment. They were marked down as ungrammatical, when I came to the teacher to explain I used them correctly, she took the position that multiple negatives were syntactically ill-formed regardless of intended meaning. I felt a little betrayed that she "explained" a grammatical "rule" using reasoning that didn't actually establish her claim. For a long time afterward I was confused whether prescriptive authorities considered "compositional" multiple negatives to be ungrammatical or merely awkward. I eventually realized that most of them don't understand the difference.

    Anyway, it seems clear that read compositionally, this is a compliment – if there is no x such that x is not less than y, then y is the maximum element. So from the perspective of a linguist, should this sentence be regarded as grammatical but infelicitous due to excessive processing complexity, or as actually ungrammatical? Is this an open question, due to these constructions being too rare to compile empirical data on whether they are acceptable in contexts where they are justified, or is there a widely accepted answer?

  11. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 12:37 pm

    The "any" in Ian Preston's translation (not in Paul Campbell's less complete one on Twitter) doesn't work for me. If I had an hour or two to think about it, my poor monkey brain might be able to say why.

  12. cs said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 3:11 pm

    I'm with Jerry Friedman:

    You expect "any" in "Nobody deserves it any less", but you can't say "Everybody deserves it any less". Since the intended meaning is "Everybody else deserves it less", the "any" seems to be trying to reverse the meaning.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 4:17 pm

    Although the statement was disorienting at first, a calm analysis soon resulted in the following interpretation: "There's a player who deserves it less than Stuart", i.e., Stuart barely deserved it.

  14. Gregory Kusnick said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 8:02 pm

    Jerry and cs: It would also be reasonable to say "X is the winner, but Y doesn't deserve it any less." But to say "nobody doesn't deserve it any less" puts "nobody" in the position of an equally deserving party.

  15. Viseguy said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 9:46 pm

    My two-bit analysis:

    "There's not a player who doesn't deserve it less." ==>
    "There is a player who does deserve it less." ==>
    (?)"There's at least one player, possibly more than one, possibly many (but I ain't sayin'), who deserve it less."

    Conclusion: He meant to say, "There's not a player who deserves it more," but either botched it or couldn't bring himself to come out with it.

  16. Nathan said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 10:33 pm

    Awkward way to say it, but the logic is straightforward.
    "There's not a player who doesn't" is equivalent to "Every player does".
    So "There's not a player who doesn't deserve it less" is equivalent to "Every [other] player deserves it less."

  17. Eli Nelson said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 10:59 pm

    Victor Mair and Viceguy:

    "There's not a player who doesn't…" ==>
    "There is a player who does.."

    Does this step preserve the original meaning? I think the actual implication is stronger, that is:

    "There's not a player who doesn't…" ==>
    "All players do.."

    For example, if I said "There's not a player who doesn't cheat", I would be impugning the character of all of the players, not just an unspecified number, right?

  18. Dick Gregory said,

    May 6, 2015 @ 9:59 am

    Off-topic, does one have to ponder for more than a quarter-hour to copulate legally on Florida's sands?
    "A jury Monday found a couple guilty of having sex on Bradenton Beach after only 15 minutes of deliberation."

  19. Terry Hunt said,

    May 6, 2015 @ 10:05 am

    Making strenuous efforts to avoid all sports news so that I could enjoy the whole match on the BBC iPlayer without knowing the outcome, I sought refuge in academia and came to Language Log . . . :-).

    To be fair to LL, it was also unexpectedly reported on the front page of Wikipedia, another daily web-read. (When clicking through at BBC News web pages, I hold my hand up to block potentially dangerous areas.)

    To be fair to Shaun "The Magician" Murphy, he'd just come through the most gruelling ordeal in the sport (and lost), so he can be excused for being less than fully coherent.

  20. kevinm said,

    May 6, 2015 @ 10:15 am

    There's a distinction, I think, between
    not (deserve it less)
    (not deserve it) less

  21. Viseguy said,

    May 6, 2015 @ 11:36 pm

    @Eli Nelson:
    > Does this step preserve the original meaning? I think the actual
    > implication is stronger, that is:
    > "There's not a player who doesn't…" ==>
    > "All players do.."

    You know, I think you're right:
    "There's not a player (in the world) who doesn't deserve it less (than Stuart)."==>
    "There's not a player (in the world) who deserves it as much or more than Stuart."==>
    "Every player in the world (except Stuart) deserves it less than Stuart."

    No misnegation, clear compliment.

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