"Despite an initial reluctance to withhold comment"

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Michelle Kosinski and Kevin Liptak, "Gloves-off White House creates rift between Obama and Trump teams", CNN 12/16/2016:

Donald Trump's dismissal of US intelligence about Russian election meddling has deeply alarmed the White House, prompting a new and combative approach to the President-elect that's caused rifts between the incoming and outgoing administrations. […]

In his briefings, [White House Press Secretary Josh] Earnest has resumed tying Trump to Russia, a staple of Obama's own campaign stump speech.

"It was the President-elect who, over the course of the campaign, indicated that he thought that President Putin was a strong leader," he said on Monday, continuing with a litany of examples meant to demonstrate a tight alliance with Moscow. "His campaign didn't make any effort to obscure this."

Despite an initial reluctance to withhold comment on Trump's cabinet picks, he's tied the President-elect's selection as secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, to Trump's approach to Russia. [emphasis added]

Some examples of similar misnegations:

[link] He commissioned his ministers to conduct traditional Chinese ceremonies honoring the family's ancestors, but, perhaps indicative of the usual Mongol reluctance to avoid anything associated with death, he personally stayed well away from them.

[link]  Clinicians often seek to avoid being the bearers of ill-tidings, not through malice or a lack of concern but, particularly, through their anxiety about being able to deal with the consequences of giving such information and a natural reluctance to avoid causing distress to others.

[link] The city’s increasingly desperate religious leaders,appealed to then-Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, a Hariri client, to intervene politically to halt the violence. Siniora explained in all sincerity that he had more urgent priorities, specifically preparing for the legislative elections that were to be held in June of the following year. He was particularly reluctant to avoid antagonizing Salafi groups that were participating in the fighting and were emerging as a force to be reckoned with in the local political life of the city.

[h/t Rod Johnson]



  1. Ralph Hickok said,

    December 17, 2016 @ 8:30 am

    I am reluctant to withhold comment on this post, but I fear I must.

  2. Christopher Henrich said,

    December 17, 2016 @ 11:11 am

    Would it make sense to call these "misnegations" something like "semantic negative concordance"?

  3. Arthur Baker said,

    December 17, 2016 @ 5:07 pm

    And there's this very common one: "You cannot underestimate the importance of …", when the writer or speaker plainly means either "you should not underestimate" or "you cannot overestimate".

    [(myl) Indeed:

    "Why are negations so easy to fail to miss?", 2/26/2004
    "We cannot/must not understate/overstate …?", 5/6/2004
    "Multiplex negatio ferblondiat", 7/14/2007
    "Weird logic and Bayesian semantics", 7/15/2007
    "Electoral overnegation", 11/5/2008
    "'Cannot underestimate' = 'must not underestimate'?", 11/6/2008
    "Misunderestimation", 4/4/2009
    "Underestimate, overestimate, whatever", 4/23/2011
    "Overestimating, underestimating, whatever", 1/11/2013
    "The Estimation Game", 4/3/2014
    etc. …

  4. Rod Johnson said,

    December 18, 2016 @ 9:40 am

    I'm interested in the difference, from a processing standpoint, between grammatically explicit misnegations like "No telling … is neither complete nor accurate" and examples where the negation is buried within the semantics of the words. Is one easier to produce/understand than the other?

  5. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    December 18, 2016 @ 1:12 pm

    @Christopher Henrich: The advantage of "misnegation" is that it's agnostic as to the cause, whereas the name "semantic negative concordance" would seem to suggest (IMHO wrongly) that the "withhold" is being licensed by the "reluctance".

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