"Denying that he was not anti-gay or anti-women"

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Matt Apuzzo, "Under Trump, Approach to Civil Rights Law Is Likely to Change Definitively", NYT 1/19/2017:

At this confirmation hearing, Mr. Sessions harkened to the era of segregation in arguing that there was no need for the federal government to become involved in prosecuting crimes against women or gay people that were already being prosecuted locally. “I am not sure women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination. I just don’t see it,” Mr. Sessions said, denying that he was anti-gay or anti-women.

According to Larry Horn, the last clause originally featured an additional not:

“I am not sure women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination. I just don’t see it,” Mr. Sessions said, denying that he was not anti-gay or anti-women.

And the Google News clip confirms it:

So I'll add this one to our list of published misnegations.



  1. Guy said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 11:24 am

    For me, anti-X usually takes the singular form of X. How do others feel about this?

  2. Miles said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 11:57 am


    No, Anti-women sounds fine to me, as would anti-children, but I can't immediately think of an example where it works with a regular plural (ending in s), so maybe anti-SINGULAR is more the norm.

    (I'm British if that makes a difference).

  3. David L said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 12:10 pm

    Geoff Pullum is anti-comments.

  4. ngage92 said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 1:22 pm

    It's almost as if anti-S and anti-P have slightly different meanings. Like, anti-child to me would be, e.g. a politician opposed to publicly funded kindergarten, whereas anti-children would be more like a person who doesn't want to have a child or doesn't like actual children around her.

  5. Bob Ladd said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 2:44 pm

    The other thing that favours (or at least allows) anti-women rather than anti-woman is the irregular plural. This is a well-known phenomenon in compounds: rats poison and muscles toning, with regular plurals in first position, are weird, but lice medicine and teeth whitening, with irregular plurals, are at least possible.

  6. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 4:42 pm

    I found the NYT phrasing "harkened to the era of segregation" puzzling. I'm not sure how much of that was because the article did a poor job of explaining the context of the relevant statement versus how much was confusion at an odd-sounding construction because I don't think my idiolect permits "harkened to" rather than "harkened back to."* (Apparently The Kids Today are omitting the "back" with some frequency, but I can't say that's a trend I had consciously adjusted my expectations to.) However, to give credit where credit was due the article does link to a separate piece which does explain pretty thoroughly the context of what Sen. Sessions had previously said.

    *I think I also prefer "hearkened" to "harkened" for the spelling, but the google books n-gram viewer suggests the latter variant has gotten so close to 50/50 with the former I guess I shouldn't begrudge the NYT its own preference.

  7. Keith Ivey said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 5:18 pm

    Miles, I'd have expected your Britishness to move you toward the plural, judging by the way UK news sources use "drugs cartel" where Americans would use "drug cartel". But maybe "drugs" is special. It seems like I've heard other similar examples, though.

  8. maidhc said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 8:18 pm

    I'm happy with "he harkened to the opinion of the majority", but with something that happened in the past you would be more likely to harken back to it. And I'm with "harken" because it's like "Hark!". But looking for consistency in English is the heighth of folly.

  9. Miles said,

    January 20, 2017 @ 4:48 am

    Following up on the "Pullum is anti-comments" example, while it feels fine to say

    I am anti-cats

    I think I would drop the s if the adjective were in front of a noun, eg

    The garden is such a mess, I need to implement some anti-cat measures.

    And equally, I would say

    Pullum has adopted an anti-comment approach.

  10. ardj said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 7:03 am

    what J.W.Brewer & maidhc said: but OED gives hark, harken as more regular formations from OE (i.e. Old English). And what ngage92 said. Don't know why I bother really, but perhaps you'd got that far already

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