Misnegation never fails to disappoint

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Heather Stewart, "Brexit: as parliament returns to work, what happens now?", The Guardian 1/6/2019:

Labour is likely to table a vote of no confidence in the government, though it is unclear whether it would do so immediately – and even less unclear whether it could win it.

[h/t Stan Carey]

The obligatory screenshot:


  1. Vance Maverick said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 11:08 am

    Also, which meaning of "table" is intended? "Postpone" or "present"?

  2. Faldone said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 11:16 am

    It's British. It's "present".

  3. Ellen K. said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 11:18 am

    I'm pretty sure "present", but I much appreciate your comment, Vance Maverick, because I hadn't even remembered that meaning of "table" until reading your comment.

  4. Cervantes said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 11:42 am

    Yes, there have actually been instances of diplomatic miscommunication because the meaning of "table" a proposal is opposite on opposite sides of the pond. I can't remember specifics but I do remember reading that this has happened.

  5. Tim Rowe said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 12:48 pm

    It's a British newspaper writing about British politics – there's no ambiguity, because "present" is the only relevant meaning in normal use here.

  6. richardelguru said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 1:02 pm

    Well 'less' is 'more', as many have said at least since Browning.

  7. Ben Zimmer said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 2:22 pm

    On the British vs. American meanings of "table," see my recent Wall St. Journal column.

  8. Andrew Usher said,

    January 8, 2019 @ 12:06 am

    Not unusually, the American meaning of 'table' actually works here, though 'less unclear' is still an obvious misnegation. However, 'would' would likely be preferred to 'could' for that meaning.

    The negation is even stranger because 'and even more …' is pretty much an established idiom for this sort of thing; though the construction with 'less' is also found when the sense demands it.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  9. Christian Weisgerber said,

    January 8, 2019 @ 10:31 am

    And if you pick up a Canadian newspaper, you'll see that Canadian usage agrees with the British meaning in this case, so the schism is not actually "trans-Atlantic".

    This is the entry to check to see if a dictionary that claims to cover Canadian English actually does so.

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 8, 2019 @ 1:21 pm

    I think the misnegation ("even less unclear") that originally caught myl's eye presupposes the British meaning because the whole structure of the sentence (conceptually distinguishing between an accomplished-if-attempted "tabling" from a subsequent vote of uncertain outcome) makes little sense on the American meaning of "table." Although there may be some fine details of parliamentary procecure I'm assuming away here, you generally don't need any given number of votes to initially present a proposal but you generally do need some key number of votes to postpone its consideration once it is otherwise ripe for consideration.

  11. Ellen K. said,

    January 8, 2019 @ 4:02 pm

    @Andrew Usher. I disagree, I don't think the American meaning works. Because the issue of whether or not they can win it at the end of it. Which isn't an issue after tabling it by the American meaning. I (American) had read "table" as a error before I was reminded of the British meaning of the word in this context.

  12. Trogluddite said,

    January 9, 2019 @ 9:57 am

    Many of the US uses of "tabled/tabling" discussed here might be rendered as "shelved/shelving" here in the UK (though "attempt to have [X] shelved" is probably more idiomatic than "attempt to shelf [X]".) I couldn't help but wonder whether this reflects different cultural norms regarding interior decorating and furnishing; or tidiness, maybe? (tongue firmly in cheek, of course!) ;-)

  13. Trogluddite said,

    January 9, 2019 @ 10:01 am

    PS) I give this mis-negation bonus points for the irony of it being a sentence explictly about "clarity".

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