An overnegation that isn't hard to miss

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Headline from the Los Angeles Times: "South Korea's obsession with speedskating isn't hard to miss."

Spotted by Alex Boisvert, who tweeted: "This headline has me oddly perplexed. Like … is it easy to miss? I've been thinking about this way too long."

That's the thing with overnegations. They're oddly perplexing, and surprisingly easy to miss. It's something we've been documenting on Language Log since 2004 ("Why are negations so easy to fail to miss?"). See LL's "Misnegation" category and the posts archived here for many more examples over the years.


  1. ktschwarz said,

    February 17, 2018 @ 2:50 am

    Coincidentally, just today I discovered an extremely rare case of "fail to miss" that is neither Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy nor a misnegation: from Lytton Strachey, Portraits in Miniature and Other Essays (1931)

    [Politics] did not, indeed, succeed in making Macaulay a bore; that was impossible; but, though he is never dull, one constantly feels that he might have been much more interesting. Too often he misses the really exciting, the really fascinating, point. And how can one fail to miss a great deal if one persists in considering the world from one side or other of the House of Commons?

    I think the Language Loggers should write a book about "What Prescriptivists Should Learn from Linguists", and misnegation should be a major part of it. This is an actual error that is extremely common, yet for all the style guides and how-to-write advice floating around, there's not a single one that warns about it. They didn't notice, and the "happiness boys" did. Editors and teachers need the scientific prescriptivism that Mark Liberman was calling for a decade ago.

  2. Max said,

    February 17, 2018 @ 3:04 am

    I may have failed to miss it, but does this issue exist differently in other languages? Spanish, for instance, doesn't seem to recognize double negatives the same way as in English; does that prevent/exacerbate this?

  3. Yuval said,

    February 17, 2018 @ 9:01 am


    We have a misnegation category over at Dagesh Kal as well. It's definitely A Thing in Hebrew, some examples we collected can be translated as:

    There is no appointment that wasn't performed in a manner which isn't orderly and correct.

    A few versions which do not necessarily contradict.

    There's almost nobody who doesn't contract this disease at least once.

    Isn't it about time that this organization isn't supervised like the others?

    Etc. etc…

  4. John Roth said,

    February 17, 2018 @ 11:58 am

    Fail to miss could actually be correct, as in a warning shot that accidentally hits the target.

  5. Gregory Kusnick said,

    February 17, 2018 @ 12:44 pm

    Yuval: I'm not seeing a misnegation in "There's almost nobody who doesn't contract this disease at least once", if it's a disease that almost everybody gets at least once.

  6. ktschwarz said,

    February 18, 2018 @ 4:03 am

    @Max Misnegations in French and German were discussed on Language Log in 2011. They do exist, but it doesn't seem like anyone has tried to measure the frequency relative to English.

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