Nor does it mean that he doesn't lack negatives

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Or does it? Bret Stephens, "Bush 41, Trump, and American Decline", NYT 4/26/2018:

These contrasts don't mean that Bush was without blemish: As Meacham notes, there were political misjudgments and calculated concessions to ambition on the long path to power. Nor does it mean that Trump doesn't lack his own kind of strengths, not the least of which is his loudly declared indifference to elite opinion.

My semantic interpreter dies  of negation poisoning after about the eighth word of that last sentence. But I think there's one too many negatives in it, since a version with one negative removed seem to mean what Mr. Stephens had in mind to communicate:

Nor does it mean that Trump lacks his own kind of strengths

The obligatory screenshot:

For more than you could possibly care to read about similar issues, see "No post too obscure to escape notice", 11/27/2009.

[h/t David Russinoff]

 



3 Comments

  1. Mark Meckes said,

    April 27, 2018 @ 12:30 pm

    "Lack" has now been changed to "have". But personally I keep tripping over the number disagreement between "it" and its apparent antecedent "These contrasts". (Though I don't doubt I wouldn't have noticed that if it weren't that I couldn't easily parse all the negatives.)

  2. Stephen Hart said,

    April 27, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

    At least one issue with the original occurs after the pile of negation.

    "not the least of which is his loudly declared indifference to elite opinion."

    So, is "indifference to elite opinion" a strength or a weakness?

    Given the clue that the author is Bret Stephens, I assume his point is that indifference to elite opinion is a strength.

  3. Lance said,

    April 27, 2018 @ 9:47 pm

    There's a kind of bathroom-pronoun effect here, too. (For those who don't know the term, it comes from sentences, cited to Barbara Partee, like "Either this house has no bathroom, or it is in an unusual place", where the antecedent for "it" is the non-individual-denoting "no bathroom".) It's not a problem with the Times's revised sentence, which as Mark Meckes observes is:

    Nor does it mean that Trump doesn't have his own kind of strengths, not the least of which is his loudly declared indifference to elite opinion.

    But I have a lot of trouble getting an antecedent for "which" in the full version of Mark's suggested correction:

    Nor does it mean that Trump lacks his own kind of strengths, not the least of which is his loudly declared indifference to elite opinion.

    which, simplified to "Trump doesn't lack strengths, one of which is his indifference", has for the me the problem that the first half, while implying strengths, doesn't quite assert their existence, so there's nothing for "(one of) which" to refer to. Maybe it's just me?

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