"I leaked nothing to nobody"

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From Susan Rice's interview today with Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC, an interesting example of emphatic multiple negation:

I leaked nothing to nobody, and never have and never would.

Filling in the verb-phrase ellipsis might give us "I never have leaked nothing to nobody" — though maybe not, since the elided material is famously not always exactly identical to its source in such cases.

More of the context:

Andrea Mitchell: Within that process,
and within the context of the Trump campaign, the Trump transition,
did you seek
the names of people involved in-
t- to unmask the names of people involved in
the Trump transition, the Trump campaign, people
surrounding the pre-
the president-elect

Susan Rice: Let me begin ((with))-

Andrea Mitchell: … in order to spy on them,
in order to expose them.

Susan Rice: Absolutely- absolutely not
for any political purposes,
to spy, expose, anything. ((But let me-))

Andrea Mitchell: Did you leak the name of Mike Flynn …

Susan Rice: I leaked nothing to nobody,
and never have and never would.



  1. Gregory Kusnick said,

    April 4, 2017 @ 1:50 pm

    "You won't say nothing to no-one, never tell a soul what you know is the truth."

  2. GeorgeW said,

    April 4, 2017 @ 2:24 pm


  3. J. K. Gayle said,

    April 4, 2017 @ 5:27 pm

    Susan Rice is translanguaging:


  4. Michael Watts said,

    April 4, 2017 @ 5:28 pm

    The fact that it's "I leaked nothing to nobody" rather than "I didn't leak nothing to nobody" makes me see this as an answer to the double question "what did you leak to who?"

    I hear this sort of fill-in-two-blanks question pretty commonly, but I don't know that I've ever seen a grammar discuss them or acknowledge that they're possible. I'll have to look in CGEL.

  5. AntC said,

    April 4, 2017 @ 6:04 pm

    @J.K. Gayle, I think Susan Rice is speaking perfectly usual vernacular/informal English.

    As @Michael Watts says, she's being asked two questions, so she's filling in two blanks.

    I've used that kind of expression myself often enough. I am neither Black nor American. There's plenty of evidence that emphatic negation has always been alive and well in English.

  6. JPL said,

    April 4, 2017 @ 6:12 pm

    Taking into account what J.K. Gayle said above, I wouldn't fill in the verb ellipsis quite like that. Perhaps the following are possible alternative expressions:

  7. JPL said,

    April 4, 2017 @ 6:56 pm

    Sorry, somehow my incomplete comment got posted. Now, taking into account the comments of Michael Watts and AntC above as well,

    1. I've never leaked nothing to nobody, never have, never would. (Or, "I ain' never …")
    2. I didn't leak nothing to nobody.
    3. I didn't leak anything to anybody.
    4. I leaked nothing and I leaked to nobody.

    The ellipsis drawing the attention is probably related to no. 4: "I leaked nothing [and I leaked] to nobody." I would say that this is not so much an answer to a double question as an emphatic denial, an insistence that she absolutely doesn't do leaking, negating both X and Y in [SR leak X to Y?] at once, which I think conveys her message better than 3.

  8. AntC said,

    April 4, 2017 @ 8:11 pm

    @J.K. Gayle, I see that your website, to which you linked, covers "Bible, Literature, Translation".

    The Garcia paper that your article links to (presumably trying to give it some veneer of authority) makes no mention of AAVE. And I find your article patronising in supposing Rice's remark needs explaining as the intrusion of non-standard English. The slant of your article is "that girl's getting uppity".

    All you need say is "Susan Rice is deploying a full repertoire of linguistic skills.
    In this very context, she is speaking political standard American English." Period.

    You're the author of this gem last month: "Trump vs. McGee: contrastive readings of John 15:13 in light of radical Islamic terrorism"

  9. Sean Shelton said,

    April 5, 2017 @ 2:24 am

    All she had to say is. I didn't leak anything. Ever

  10. Rodger C said,

    April 5, 2017 @ 6:41 am

    I heard that and immediately thought, "She's slightly rattled and trying to be emphatic."

  11. Jan Schreuder said,

    April 5, 2017 @ 6:48 am

    He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde
    In al his lyf unto no maner wight

  12. BlueLoom said,

    April 5, 2017 @ 7:22 am

    The Washington Post cleaned it up with a comma: "I leaked nothing, to nobody, and never have and never would." (Washington Post, Wednesday, April 5, p. A1)

  13. Breffni said,

    April 5, 2017 @ 7:28 am

    AntC: In relation to your second comment, J. K. Gayle can speak for him/herself, but I have to say my reading of their article is totally at odds with yours. I don't see anything remotely patronising in it, whether or not you agree with the translanguaging analysis, and certainly I don't get anything remotely hostile towards Rice in it, least of all "that girl's getting uppity". The link to the Garcia article is in support of the quote explaining the term translanguaging, nothing to do with claiming respectability and no implication that it's about AAVE.
    And I don't see what you find objectionable about the "Trump vs McGee" piece either, in which J. K. Gayle says Trump "begins to sound like the very ones he intends 'to demolish and destroy' and 'to extinguish from our planet'", contrasting Trump's use of a certain New Testament passage with that of a Father Martin McGee. (Is it the use of the term "radical Islamic terrorism" in the title? I assume it's not the religious aspect itself.)

  14. Beverly harrington said,

    April 5, 2017 @ 8:35 am

    " I leaked nothing to nobody". Does that mean she leaked something to somebody?

  15. RP said,

    April 5, 2017 @ 9:42 am

    No, it means that she leaked to something to everyone.

    (However, I agree with the Watts/AntC analysis.)

  16. J. K. Gayle said,

    April 5, 2017 @ 10:00 am

    JPL – That’s a really useful exercise to rephrase in various ways to best match was “conveys her message” with her “nothing to nobody.” I think you’re on to something with your different translations. When we read Zora Neale Hurston’s “Glossary of Harlem Slang” and June Jordan’s “Nobody Mean More to Me Than You and the Future of Willie Jordan,” we see how they work to match phrases, to convey into standard American English what’s in African American English.

    AntC and Breffni – Thanks for taking time to look at so much in this short context. García doesn’t need to mention AAVE; she and her colleagues seem interested, rather, in the consequences of our convenient labelling of languages. I like this sentence of theirs for how it addresses ways we, probably unconsciously, tend to class languages hierarchically at the risk of misunderstanding what bilinguals using them are doing:

    “We will suggest that a full understanding of what is meant by translanguaging and an accurate take on what is meant by ‘a language’ allows us to graduate from the goal of ‘language maintenance’, with its constant risk of turning minoritized languages into museum pieces, to that of sustainable practices by bilingual speakers that thrive in spatial and functional interrelation with the sustaining linguistic practices of other speakers (Fishman 1964; García 2011).”

    We could probably all agree that “emphatic negation has always been alive and well in English.” This hardly addresses whether Susan Rice is translanguaging. I don't see her as doing differently from what June Jordan or Zora Neale Hurston has done:


  17. Ronnie Ray said,

    April 5, 2017 @ 10:52 am

    Susan Rice slices and dices English language when she says: I leaked nothing to nobody.
    It sounds like ebonics which is nothing more than slang.

  18. Joe said,

    April 5, 2017 @ 12:28 pm

    Negative concord occurs in many "languages" including French as well as AAVE. For Rice, I'm guessing it's Jamaican Creole.

  19. J. K. Gayle said,

    April 5, 2017 @ 1:50 pm

    On May 12, 2011, Ambassador Rice, US Permanent Representative to the UN, at the UN Association's Global Classrooms International Model UN Conference, said this:

    "We need all of you to make your mark. So please stay engaged. Get the very best education you can. Be fearless. Travel the world. Learn as many other languages as you can. Get out of your comfort zone. And get service in your soul."

    On May 11, 2016, National Security Advisor Rice, for the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs Commencement Address at Florida International University, said this:

    "In a world where great gaps persist between those with power and privilege and those without, education is still the great equalizer. No matter where you come from, no matter what language you grew up speaking, this diploma is your passport to a future of possibility…. Without tapping into America’s full range of races, religions, ethnicities, language skills, and social and economic experiences, we’re leading in a complex world with one hand tied behind our back…. Travel the world. Learn more languages. Get dust in your hair. FIU has taught you to think globally. Now, go immerse yourselves in the world. "

    Guess what languages she has learned? And, as importantly, guess how she learned translanguaging?


  20. Qafqa said,

    April 5, 2017 @ 2:07 pm

    JPL, "I leaked nothing [and I leaked] to nobody." is how I parsed it too: She's extremely well spoken, I watched this live and found her answer jarring for a split second, then came to that conclusion.

  21. Qafqa said,

    April 5, 2017 @ 5:41 pm

    I think interpreting Rice's phrasing based on her skin color is pretty telling.

  22. J. K. Gayle said,

    April 5, 2017 @ 6:40 pm

    Ambassador Rice is not unaware of racism – http://m.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/may/11/susan-rice-us-national-security-agencies-too-white/

  23. R Bremner said,

    April 8, 2017 @ 11:47 am

    To those of us who grew up in New Jersey, this has an unfortunate ring of stereotypical mob-talk: "I never told nothing to nobody, you know I'd never do that, Don. Honest, I don't know nothing about how the cops found out."

  24. R Bremner said,

    April 9, 2017 @ 1:57 pm

    Hi; not that it matters much, but my recent comments here seem to have been eaten by the spam filter; I wonder if this has been happening to anyone else.

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