One can't deny that it isn't comforting

« previous post | next post »

Jordan Hoffman, "Mother's Day review — almost transcendentally terrible", The Guardian 4/28/2016:

One can't deny, however, that this sort of badness – this transcendent, almost unearthly badness – isn't oddly comforting.

One can't deny that this sentence doesn't have one more not than it needs, either.

Working it out layer by layer:

  1. This sort of badness is comforting. (The point, in the end.)
  2. This sort of badness isn't comforting. (Reversed.)
  3. Who can deny that this sort of badness isn't comforting? (Back to the point.)
  4. We can't deny that this sort of badness isn't comforting. (Reversed again.)

Or taking a different route:

  1. This sort of badness is comforting. (The point.)
  2. We deny that this sort of badness is comforting. (Reversed.)
  3. We can't deny that this sort of badness is comforting. (Back to the point.)
  4. We can't deny that this sort of badness isn't comforting. (Oops.)

But most likely this misnegation is negative concord stubbornly rising again, not just the tangled results of our poor monkey brains trying to calculate the interactions of three negatives and a modal in two clauses.

And Hoffman is hardly the first to succumb to this subversive intrusion:

(link) [O]ne can't deny that it isn't one of the most memorable titles on Pickford's lengthy c.v.
(link) [O]ne can't deny that the passion isn't there.
(link) You can't deny that nearly 17 feet of Cadillac isn't impressive.
(link) You can't deny that she isn't fearless.
(link) You can't deny that Chris' music doesn't make you move.
(link) [W]e can't deny that it doesn't exist.

[h/t Adam Braff]

 



7 Comments

  1. Mark Meckes said,

    April 29, 2016 @ 9:27 am

    One can't help not denying that it's not difficult to misunderstand what's not unclear in sentences which don't have too few negatives.

  2. Piyush said,

    April 29, 2016 @ 1:16 pm

    It seems there might be a bug with the third point in the first unwrapping. At least in my dialect of English, "Who can deny X?" is the same as "I believe that X", e.g.,

    "Who can deny that the moon goes around the Earth?"

    is equivalent to

    "I believe that the moon goes around the Earth."

    So, in the post,

    3. Who can deny that this sort of badness isn't comforting?

    would be equivalent to

    "I believe that this sort of badness isn't comforting", which is contrary to point 1 rather than being the same as it.

  3. Guy said,

    April 29, 2016 @ 5:47 pm

    @Piyush

    I agree, but the problem is fixed if we substitute "one" for "who", which I think(?) was intended. The interrogative form is a rhetorical question suggesting the answer "no one", or at least, "very few reasonable people".

    @Mark Meckes

    I think you want "what's" to be "what would be". Or at least it makes more sense to me that way.

  4. Mark Meckes said,

    April 29, 2016 @ 7:49 pm

    @Guy

    One can't help not denying that it's not difficult to misunderstand what would not be unclear in sentences which don't have too few negatives.

    Yes, you're right. It reads much better that way.

  5. Piyush said,

    April 29, 2016 @ 10:13 pm

    Guy,

    The problem is also fixed if you replace "Who" by "We" and remove the question mark at the end. That also minimizes the edit distance with the next sentence :-)

  6. Jamie said,

    May 2, 2016 @ 6:46 pm

    I remember a tall story in an engineering magazine several decades ago that ended with: "If your doubts about the non-veracity of my story are unfounded then it is untrue that I am not standing here wearing a fez I was given by the Caliph of Baghdad"

  7. Killer said,

    May 3, 2016 @ 2:38 pm

    That's not the only example of awkward editing in the article:

    – "Time and again hopeful people often ask"

    – "If this were a just world, someone like John Waters will end up"

    – at least this ode to the Hallmark holiday at least won't be soon forgotten

    – more than his share of junk under his belt [um … "junk," you say?]

    – Sudeikis / Sudekis

    But the review does make me want to see the movie – at a matinee, a little drunk, with a friend and a bad attitude. "Mother's Day works as an aspirational film for the most boring people alive" – ha!

RSS feed for comments on this post