Hypothetical misnegation

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From Eoin Ryan:

I noticed this in an article on Salon.com, "Charter schools are pushing public education to the breaking point: Charters are driving Boston’s public education system to the financial brink" by Jeff Bryant, published on Friday, February 8.

The overall tenor of the piece, as the headline and subhead make clear, is that the way charter schools are funded in Massachussetts is sucking funding from public schools, with bad consequences throughout the state and especially in Boston. So, per the article, the charter school situation is not good in Massachussetts:

This is not to say Massachusetts might be doing a better job of managing the charter industry than any other state. Charters in Massachusetts are more regulated than they are in most other states, and their numbers are capped…

Or so says the text. But I think this should be "[]his is not to say MA might not be doing a better job", with a second "not". The construction with two "not"s is hard to parse (maybe I'm wrong that there should be a second "not"!), perhaps leading to a sort of "edito" based on the thought that so many "not"s can't be right, but the trickiness seems partly related to the presence of the "might".

What do you think?

(For more  than no one doesn't want to read about misnegation, see here.)


  1. Robert Coren said,

    February 9, 2019 @ 11:20 am

    I think you are correct. I also think the sentence reads awkwardly, with or without the additional "not". Something like "It might still be the case that Massachusetts is doing a better job…" would be clearer (and is pretty clearly what the writer was trying to say).

  2. Kevin McNulty said,

    February 9, 2019 @ 11:58 am

    "Might" might not be incorrect, but "may" may be better. I think you're right that the sentence means to convey that MA, bad as it is, seems to be managing charter schools better than other states do.

  3. Bloix said,

    February 9, 2019 @ 12:14 pm

    Put "that" before "Massachusetts and replace "might be" with "is" and it become clear immediately that the meaning is the opposite of the author's intention.

  4. rosie said,

    February 9, 2019 @ 2:20 pm

    "Massachusetts might still be doing a better job" is surely clearer than "It might still be the case that Massachusetts is doing a better job". And I think that "might" is after all better than "may", because "may" is used to indicate permission.

  5. JPL said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 4:22 am

    I never know what people are trying to say when they say, "this is not to say …", but in this case what about incorporating the second negation into that verb, indicating the kind of saying, like, "This is not to deny [that] Massachusetts might be doing a better job of managing …"? There are other ways of doing it, but I do think another negation needs expressing there. As it is, the writer seems to be saying, perhaps against their intent, that Mass. is not doing a better job and there is no reason to think it would be possible for them to do so.

  6. Trogluddite said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 3:29 pm

    I agree that the sentence doesn't seem to say what was intended. Regarding the "trickiness"; I wonder whether the "any" also complicated things for the author. I could imagine starting from "[I'm not implying that] MA is doing a worse job … than other states", realising that including their possibly exceptional performance makes for a stronger argument, then noticing that "not doing a worse job than any" isn't quite the same as "doing a better job than any", etc…

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