"Do I not like that"

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Graham Taylor has died at the age of 72, after a long and varied career as a manager and coach of English football teams. But this is Language Log, not English Football Log, and so we'll leave the obsequies to others and focus on Mr. Taylor's best known quotation, "Do I not like that":

That audio clip comes from the sound track of "Do i not like that….The Final Chapter", another name for (part of?) the documentary "An Impossible Job", about which Wikipedia tells us:

Graham Taylor: An Impossible Job, also known as Do I Not Like That, is a 1994 British fly-on-the-wall documentary directed and produced by Ken McGill, written by Patrick Collins, and made by Chrysalis for Cutting Edge. The documentary follows the England football team through the 18 months before their failure to qualify for the 1994 FIFA World Cup Finals and gave an insight into revealing the pressure manager Graham Taylor was under before his resignation.

The signature quotation was Taylor's filmed reaction to a goal by Poland:

The documentary follows Graham Taylor before, during and after England's crucial qualifier against the Netherlands in Rotterdam.

England's campaign started poorly with a home draw against Norway in October 1992. Taylor's subsequent touchline performances included the quotes "Do I not like that" and "Can we not knock it?!" from an away game against Poland in May 1993. During the following game, with England 2-0 down in Norway in June and running through their repertoire of misplaced passes, Taylor can be heard crumbling off-screen, a couple of resigned "hells fucking bells".

The linguistic question is, why was "Do I not like that" an appropriate and resonant response to an opposing team's score?

The subject-auxiliary inversion of do separate from not is an archaic feature apparently preserved in the kind of English that Taylor grew up with:

Born in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, Taylor grew up in the industrial steel town of Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire […]

And I'm guessing that the inversion itself is emphatic, as in "Did he ever!", rather than signaling an ironic self-addressed question. That is, the meaning is "I really don't like that", not "Is it the case that I don't like that?"

But I'll leave this issue to commenters who know more about English dialectal pragmatics than I do.

Update — inspired by Robert Coren's comment, I took at quick look for literary examples, and found

Edgar Allen Poe, The Black CatFor the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not – and very surely do I not dream.

And maybe this:

Samuel Richardson, Pamela: 'My dear Pamela,' replied he, 'must not be too serious: I hope I shall not be a very tyrannical husband: yet do I not pretend to be perfect, or to be always governed by reason in my first transports; and I expect, from your affection, that you will bear with me, when you find me in the wrong. I have not an ungrateful spirit; and can, when cool, enter as impartially into myself, as most men; and then I am always kind and acknowledging, in proportion as I have been out of the way.


  1. Robert Coren said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 10:57 am

    In George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, in Eliza's first (and not entirely successful) outing as a "lady", after she expresses the opinion that somebody had "done in" her aunt, one of her interlocutors suggests that surely she doesn't really believe that her aunt was murdered, to which she replies "Do I not!", with the clear meaning of "I most certainly do".

  2. Philip said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 11:11 am

    I never understood that syntax, no where he got it from, so thanks for clearing that up. But the unusual syntax was used as sort of proof that he was losing it, mentally.

  3. rosie said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 11:45 am

    I think that the Poe extract shows not this phenomenon, but rather "verb second" word order: in "very surely do I not dream", because Poe chose that word-order, and the adverbial comes first, the verb "do" comes next, and the subject after the verb. Cf "Mad indeed would I be" and "mad am I not".

    [(myl) No doubt you're right — though it could be argued that subj-aux inversion in questions is related to V2 order via the idea of a sentence-initial question morpheme that happens to be phonologically null is the case of a yes/no questions, as opposed to things like "Why do we…" or "Where was she…". And similarly for emphasis: "[Emphatically] do I not like that" :-).]

  4. KevinM said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 12:08 pm

    @ Robert Coren
    Probably best understood as gradated response
    "You don't really believe in global warming?"
    Freighted, rhetorical-question response: "Do I not?"
    More emphatic version: "Do I not!"
    (Eliza is indignant here.)

  5. Andy Stow said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 12:10 pm

    It sounds a lot more natural with an exclamatory word put in front of it.

    Boy, do I not like that.
    Wow, do I not like that.

  6. Ferdinand Cesarano said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 1:16 pm

    I am reminded of the law firm in the Three Stooges called "Dewey, Cheatem, & Howe".

  7. Ian Preston said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 1:30 pm

    "Do I not like that" was not Taylor's reaction to the Poland goal, it was his response to Des Walker's poor pass to John Barnes that caused England to lose possession prior to the goal. The Poland goal follows quite rapidly after that but Taylor's line comes appreciably before it is obvious that that is going to be the consequence. What he is not liking is his players' performance rather than the outcome that ensues.

    An attempted, possibly flawed, transcript: "[England lose the ball to Poland] Ooh, fucking … Do I not like that. … [Poland score] It's a goal. … What a fucking ball. What a ball from Des to Barnesy, the main man. What a fucking ball. It's our possession …"

  8. Roscoe said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 2:05 pm

    Joseph Conrad, "Heart of Darkness":

    “We had carried Kurtz into the pilot-house: there was more air there. Lying on the couch, he stared through the open shutter. There was an eddy in the mass of human bodies, and the woman with helmeted head and tawny cheeks rushed out to the very brink of the stream. She put out her hands, shouted something, and all that wild mob took up the shout in a roaring chorus of articulated, rapid, breathless utterance.

    “‘Do you understand this?’ I asked.

    “He kept on looking out past me with fiery, longing eyes, with a mingled expression of wistfulness and hate. He made no answer, but I saw a smile, a smile of indefinable meaning, appear on his colourless lips that a moment after twitched convulsively. ‘Do I not?’ he said slowly, gasping, as if the words had been torn out of him by a supernatural power.

  9. Bob Ladd said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 2:39 pm

    I was going to say what rosie said, but about the Richardson passage. I thought yet do I not pretend… involved V2 after clause-initial yet.

  10. Guy said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 3:33 pm

    I'm not sure I understand what's unusual about this usage. Would a statement like "man, is he dumb," confuse many people or strike many people as unusual? Is it, as Andy suggests, just the lack of an interjection that makes it odd? Because I feel like the interjection is only really necessary in writing where the intonational pattern can't be expressed. It seems like a pretty ordinary construction.

  11. AntC said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 4:51 pm

    @Guy, @Andy spot on.

    When I read Mark's title (no exclamation point) I was puzzled; when I played the audio it was obvious.

    (And having lived in Yorkshire 15 years, the 'flat' intonation didn't mislead me.)

  12. Rubrick said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 5:22 pm

    Taylor can be heard crumbling off-screen[…]

    Crumbling? Surely this is a typo (either Mark's or Wikipedia's) for "grumbling"? Unless there's a gloss of "crumbling" I'm unfamiliar with.

    [(myl) Not guilty:

    I wondered about this, but decided (probably prematurely) that it was a British sport-journalism idiom.]

    FWIW, I'm pleased to note Scunthorpe making an appearance on LL *not* in the context of over-zealous porn-blockers.

  13. Adrian said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 9:50 pm

    Just to confirm that the inversion is emphatic, and not signalling a question.

    I don't think I invert a la Taylor, but I know that inversion is a feature of my speech because an American teacher friend is irritated by my doing it!

  14. mollymooly said,

    January 20, 2017 @ 3:01 am

    "The subject-auxiliary inversion of do separate from not is an archaic feature apparently preserved in the kind of English that Taylor grew up with"

    It remains common in Irish English, but AFAIK Taylor had no Irish heritage.

  15. Sid Smith said,

    January 20, 2017 @ 4:00 am

    "FWIW, I'm pleased to note Scunthorpe making an appearance on LL *not* in the context of over-zealous porn-blockers."

    You'll be aware that there are three English football teams with obscenities in their names: Scunthorpe, Arsenal and Manchester Fucking United.

  16. Dunstan Lowe said,

    January 20, 2017 @ 7:17 am

    Word order aside, this form of emphasis is called litotes, which might also be called ironic underemphasis:
    "not half" = "absolutely"
    "you won't be sorry" = "you'll be very glad"
    "not unlike" = "very like"

    There's at least one well known parallel, in sports commentary, for litotes in the form of a question:
    "Howzat?" = "That was impressive"

    [(myl) Not if the inversion is simply emphatic = "I emphatically do not like that". No irony, no underemphasis there.]

  17. Terry Hunt said,

    January 20, 2017 @ 10:46 am

    @ Rubrick

    "Crumbling" makes good sense to me in the context. It suggests that Taylor's confidence, mood and demeanour are failing or falling apart because of his players' poor performance. I don't think it's a particulary sports-journalism turn of phrase.

  18. ella said,

    January 21, 2017 @ 12:04 pm

    @Sid Smith – Good one, mate.

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