"Nothing could be further than the truth"

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The linguistic highlight of Steven Mnuchin's confirmation hearing:

The context:

I'm eager to share with you
why I believe
I will serve well
as America's next secretary of the treasury.
But first
I want to correct the record about my involvement with Indy Mac bank.
Since I was first nominated to serve as treasury secretary
I have been maligned as taking advantage of others
hardship in order to earn a buck.
Nothing could be further than the truth.

Note that he mis-reads his prepared remarks in the previous sentence, grouping "hardship" with "in order to earn a buck" rather than with "taking advantage of others' ___":

Perhaps he was nervous, or perhaps he was reading inadequately-rehearsed material written by someone else. In any case, the "buck" in question was estimated by Bloomberg at somewhere north of $200 million, with another billion or so to John Paulson, and some un-estimated amount to George Soros.

The story in Bloomberg News ("Elizabeth Dexheimer and Saleha Mohsin, "Mnuchin Deflects Democratic Attack by Defending OneWest Record", 1/18/2017) quotes him with "than" replaced by "from":

"Nothing could be further from the truth," he said.

It seems likely that his prepared remarks used "from", but I haven't been able to find a copy on line — and there are plenty of published examples of "…be further than the truth".

Here's a video presentation of the other side of the political story: "Senate Democrats Host Forum with Mnuchin Bank OneWest Foresclosure Victims". A textual summary is here: David Dayen, "Treasury Pick Steve Mnuchin Denies It, But Victims Describe His Bank as a Foreclosure Machine". [Though perhaps to be taken with a few grains of salt given the source…]



17 Comments

  1. Roscoe said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 1:58 pm

    "Note that he mis-reads his prepared remarks in the previous sentence, grouping "hardship" with 'in order to earn a buck' rather than with 'taking advantage of others' ___'"

    Also known as a Cue Card Pause.
    tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CueCardPause

  2. Gregory Kusnick said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 2:18 pm

    I'm guessing that whoever prepared the written text omitted the apostrophe from others', and that's what prompted the garden-path reading Mnuchin gave it.

  3. DCBob said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 2:31 pm

    Nothing could be further than the truth? I resemble that remark!

  4. Mark Meckes said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 4:08 pm

    Could the near-interchangeability of "different from" and "different than" be bleeding into some interchangeability of "from" and "than" in other contexts?

  5. Cervantes said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 4:22 pm

    Could the near-interchangeability of "different from" and "different than" be bleeding into some interchangeability of "from" and "than" in other contexts?

    Yes, well, that could explain it; or maybe it was just a Freudian slip.

  6. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 4:52 pm

    It could be worse. Mr. Mnuchin could have said "the reality could not be further from the truth." http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1350 (Although maybe that somewhat different odd phrasing would be improved by swapping in "than" for "from"?)

  7. Kelly said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 5:08 pm

    He DID say "nothing could be further THAN the truth". Just heard it on the radio, and this site came up first when I was doing a google search on the phrase alone.

    He's toast. Hopefully.

  8. cameron said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 5:26 pm

    The construction "maligned as taking advantage of others" also strikes me as off. Should be "maligned for . . ."

  9. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 5:34 pm

    Maybe when a "than" disappears from a comparative, replaced by "compared to", "relative to", or "versus", it can pop up somewhere else.

    (Ngram result without "better than", than which those phrases are still much rarer. However, they are all increasing.)

  10. David Marjanović said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 5:35 pm

    The construction "maligned as taking advantage of others" also strikes me as off. Should be "maligned for . . ."

    Wouldn't "maligned for" be an admission that he actually did it?

  11. Guy said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 6:07 pm

    I agree that "maligned for ___" carries a cancellable suggestion that he did actually do it. (It's about as hard to cancel as in "nobody knows that ___")

    "Maligned as ___" seems fine to me and isn't factive in this way, with a meaning that makes it essentially interchangeable with "regarded as ___ and criticized based on that perception".

  12. Shaun said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 6:52 pm

    Nothing could be further THAN the truth!!! Hilarious!!! I typed his name and the quote in on google, just to see if anyone else was laughing about it!!!

  13. D.O. said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 9:35 pm

    Sorry for being bone-headed, but can anyone explain what is the fuss about. Is sweeping than for from changes the meaning of the phrase in any substantial way or is it just unidiomatic?

  14. Filter Fodder said,

    January 19, 2017 @ 10:56 pm

    You could argue that if his goal is to state that the accusations and the truth are far from each other, both

    Nothing could be further from the truth [than the accusations]

    and

    Nothing could be further [from the accusations] than the truth

    make some kind of sense. Not saying that's idiomatic, or even grammatical.

  15. Guy said,

    January 20, 2017 @ 12:28 am

    @D.O.

    The use of "than" is naturally parsed as licensed by the comparative form of the adjective, rather than a complement of "far" not specially licensed by the comparative form. If something is further than the truth, what is it further than the truth from? If the thing from which distance is measured is unspecified, it might be taken deictically "further from us than the truth is". Of course, what was intended was to express that "nothing could be further from the truth than that accusation", not that "nothing could be further (from us?) than the truth", with no explicit or implicit comparison with the accusation. The comparison with the accusation is essential to the intended meaning.

  16. Edwin Schmitt said,

    January 20, 2017 @ 4:38 am

    Interesting your final phrasing in this post. Why exactly should The Intercept's reporting on Mnuchin "be taken with a few grains of salt"? Any particular reason why "a grain" isn't enough? Is there a source that reports on the victims of OneWest that does not require "any grains"? What exactly makes them different?

    [(myl) I agree that a skeptical attitude towards evaluating sources of information is always prudent. In the case of The Intercept_, there's the additional factor of a clear and openly stated ideological stance: "aggressive and independent adversarial journalism" as their "Welcome to The Intercept_" page puts it. An adversarial case presented by a prosecution or defense attorney deserves a special level of skepticism.]

  17. Edwin Schmitt said,

    January 21, 2017 @ 4:17 am

    These days I would rather have my sources be honest about their ideological stance than pretend that they don't have one. In that sense, the Intercept actually requires fewer grains of salt than most of the "journalism" out there. Particularly considering that most "journalism" ignores the victims of people like Mnuchin, if reports like these were not adversarial it would be buried beneath reports of Kim Kardashian being robbed of her diamonds at gun point etc. Being adversarial does not mean such reports are any less factual, only that they are presented in a way to get your attention. While the phrase "take with a grain of salt" of course can be used to encourage the reader to be skeptical, it can also imply that something said is untrue (See http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/take-something-with-a-grain-of-salt). I have never heard that the Intercept has been accused of peddling false information or "fake news".

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