Anti-anti

« previous post | next post »

From today's Financial Times:

I think they meant "anti-anti-Semitism ceremony".

[h.t. Donald Clarke]



35 Comments

  1. Kangrga said,

    February 19, 2019 @ 11:57 pm

    Nice catch, but I wonder if "anti-anti-Semitism ceremony" really would have been a better choice. Sure, it's less ambiguous, but the double "anti" is quite awkward. It also constrains the meaning quite a lot towards "ceremony to prevent anti-Semitism" rather than "ceremony to commemorate anti-Semitism (and its victims)", where the latter might well be the intended meaning. Both these readings are (at least for me) quite possible for "anti-Semitism ceremony". English compounds can encode a wide variety of relations between head and modifier, after all. "Pain treatment" can be a treatment getting rid of your pain, but also a treatment that involves pain as "I'll give you the pain treatment". Surely, it would have been best to choose some other phrasing, like "ceremony against/commemorating/combatting anti-Semitism".

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    February 20, 2019 @ 3:46 am

    I find it difficult to accept that one can reasonbly "commemorate" anti-semitism, for two quite different reasons. (1) Anti-semitism is, sadly, still with us today; surely one can only "commemorate" things in the past, can one not ? And (2) whilst we can (and do) "commemorate" World War I (and, to a lesser extent, World War 2), we do so, I believe, because of the very large number of participants of both sides who gave their lives for their country in the conflict. I can see nothing whatsoever to "commemorate" in anti-semitism.

    Regarding anti-anti-semitism, which is to my mind what was intended, I and my generation learned "antidisestablishmentarianism" at a very early age and thus have no problem with two negative elements at the start of a word, even if (as in the case of "anti-d…") they are not identical.

  3. austimatt said,

    February 20, 2019 @ 3:57 am

    The headline's been updated to "French politicians lead ceremony against anti-Semitism".

  4. file said,

    February 20, 2019 @ 4:29 am

    If, as is obvious, they are not leading an anti-semitism ceremony, could they perhaps be leading a semitism ceremony?

  5. file said,

    February 20, 2019 @ 7:33 am

    If it was not an anti-Semitism ceremony they were leading, any chance that it was a Semitism ceremony?

  6. John Shutt said,

    February 20, 2019 @ 7:48 am

    Imho the problem isn't the word "anti-semitism" but the word "ceremony". The alternative that springs to mind, supposing it applies to the situation, is "protest", which may support either polarity of adjective depending on context. (Though it looks as if FT may have later changed the word from "ceremony" to "march"; seems more natural to lead a march through Paris than a ceremony through Paris, but it doesn't solve the polarity problem.)

  7. Charles in Toronto said,

    February 20, 2019 @ 7:52 am

    Pro-Semitism? :P

  8. Philip Anderson said,

    February 20, 2019 @ 8:07 am

    My reaction was the same as John's, that ceremony is the wrong word: like commemoration it implies approval.

    So protest/march/demonstration would be better, noting that an anti-Semitism protest is quite different from an anti-Semitic protest.

  9. Bloix said,

    February 20, 2019 @ 8:42 am

    I ran into another under-negation example from Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo blog this morning:

    "[Whitaker] quickly got caught up in his own scandals and had enough trouble protecting himself to worry about protecting Trump."

    Obviously what he meant was "too much trouble."

  10. Emily said,

    February 20, 2019 @ 9:44 am

    Attributed to George Bush the First: "I stand for anti-bigotry, anti-Semitism, and anti-racism."

  11. matt regan said,

    February 20, 2019 @ 11:06 am

    Fearless leader has anti-anti-missile-missile-missile.

  12. Marc Foster said,

    February 20, 2019 @ 11:16 am

    I think when people use "ceremony" or "commemorate" they are thinking about the victims of anti-semitism rather than the act of anti-semitism. I agree that it's a little off but it makes more sense if you think of it that way.

  13. Philip Taylor said,

    February 20, 2019 @ 11:50 am

    Bloix, for me (native speaker of $lt;Br.E>, >70), "enough" is a normal substitute for "too much", perhaps because of the British penchant for meiosis. "Look, I have enough on my plate without having to worry about your problems" would be a very probable rebuke when appropriate, whilst the seemingly stronger "Look, I have too much on my plate to have time to worry about your problems" would seem unnatural to me.

  14. Anthony said,

    February 20, 2019 @ 4:06 pm

    "Anti-anti-communism" at one time had some currency.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    February 20, 2019 @ 4:58 pm

    From Reuters News:

    French TV cuts Facebook live feed from Jewish cemetery after anti-Semitic abuse

    http://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-antisemitism-facebook/french-tv-cuts-facebook-live-feed-from-jewish-cemetery-after-anti-semitic-abuse-idUSKCN1Q91OL

    A French TV channel said on Wednesday it had been forced to cut short a live Facebook broadcast from a desecrated Jewish cemetery in eastern France because of an onslaught of anti-Semitic commentary.

  16. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 20, 2019 @ 5:18 pm

    Philip Anderson: My reaction was the same as John's, that ceremony is the wrong word: like commemoration it implies approval.

    So protest/march/demonstration would be better, noting that an anti-Semitism protest is quite different from an anti-Semitic protest.

    But "anti-Semitism" protest isn't semantically similar to "anti-racism protest" (unless you're against borrowed words).

  17. Elonkareon said,

    February 20, 2019 @ 6:10 pm

    I don't think "anti-Semitism protest" is any less ambiguous (or wronguous?) than "anti-Semitism ceremony". And it's certainly a worse choice if the event in question actually is a ceremony rather than a protest. It does make sense to commemorate (past) victims of anti-Semitism. But there's much more that could be *remembered* in such a ceremony, and thus I think "a ceremony to remember anti-Semitism" would work better.

    It's still not quite right, but headlines are never quite right.

  18. H Stephen Straight said,

    February 20, 2019 @ 6:24 pm

    This flub reminds me of the time a student asked if she could make an announcement before I began my day's lecture. I said yes and she then urged everyone to attend a panel discussion to take place a few days hence as part of "Mental Health Prevention Week". My lecture was for our first-year semester-long smorgasbord on Language and Human Affairs, so as soon as she left I ad-libbed a lecturette on the ins and outs of misnegation, a topic I had not otherwise planned to include in the course.

  19. David Morris said,

    February 20, 2019 @ 8:52 pm

    If two negatives make a positive, then being anti-anti-Semitic should mean being Semitic. For some reason, it doesn't work like that.

  20. BZ said,

    February 21, 2019 @ 12:57 pm

    @David Morris,
    But anti- is not a negation, it means "against", so "ant-anti-" would mean "pro-" (which is closer to what it actually means, but not quite). "Un-un-Semitic" would mean "Semitic".

  21. Rachael Churchill said,

    February 22, 2019 @ 7:25 am

    @Philip Taylor, I think you're right about "enough" normally, but in this case, it's a syntactic problem: "too much trouble… to worry about protecting Trump" is grammatical, but "enough trouble… to worry about protecting Trump" isn't (unless it were to mean that the trouble is sufficient to make it possible to worry about protecting Trump, and a smaller amount of trouble wouldn't be). If the blog has said "enough trouble without having to worry about protecting Trump" I think your point owuld hold.
    (Also – meiosis? As in cell division? Or is that a phone typo for litotes?)

  22. Rachael Churchill said,

    February 22, 2019 @ 7:27 am

    I guess "an anti-Semitism ceremony" is like "donating money to cancer" – a shorthand that kind of makes sense as long as everyone knows that everyone else knows that anti-Semitism and cancer are bad.

  23. Philip Taylor said,

    February 22, 2019 @ 3:52 pm

    Rachael C ("[M]eiosis? As in cell division ? Or is that a phone typo for litotes ?"). Certainly not as in cell division, but rather (like much of my idiolect) the term that I first learned, long before I learned of "litotes". And my telephone plays no part in my typing — it exists solely to enable me to make and receive telephone calls. I note in passing that your 'phone appears to have transposed an "o" and a "w" for you !

  24. Rachael Churchill said,

    February 23, 2019 @ 6:05 am

    Fascinating – I'd only encountered the biological meaning! Thank you.

  25. Andrew Usher said,

    February 23, 2019 @ 7:50 pm

    I've never heard 'meiosis' in that sense either, but enough meaning too much seems to be standard English; I wouldn't call it slang nor especially British.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  26. Paul Kay said,

    February 26, 2019 @ 12:01 am

    Rachael Churchill, What's ungrammatical about "enough trouble to worry about protecting Trump"? Do you find ungrammatical "enough money to worry about buying a yacht"? Given that we all realize there's litotes going on here, if we substitute something further enough along the scale to make a literal reading match the intended interpretation, it sounds ok to me: "too much trouble to think about protecting Trump". Can you explain to me how "not enough NP to VP" can be ungrammatical while "too much NP to VP" is grammatical?

  27. Rachael Churchill said,

    February 26, 2019 @ 10:22 am

    PaulKay: like I said, it would only be grammatical if he meant he had sufficient trouble to make it possible to worry about Trump, and having less trouble would make that not possible (just like your example of "enough money to buy a yacht").
    But he actually means he has *so much* trouble that he can't afford to worry about Trump, and if he had *less* trouble then he would be able to.
    "{Enough/Too much] money to qualify for food stamps" would be a better analogy than "[enough/too much] money to buy a yacht", because the polarity would be the same way round as the Trump example, rather than reversed like in your yacht example.
    It makes sense to say "I have too much money to qualify for food stamps", but it doesn't make sense (and I think is ungrammatical) to say "I have enough money to qualify for food stamps", because there's an *upper* limit, not a *lower* limit.

  28. Rachael Churchill said,

    February 26, 2019 @ 12:29 pm

    Some examples that might help clarify:

    Examples where there's a lower limit, like the yacht example Paul gave:

    1) There's a lower age limit for voting, so:
    1a) "I'm old enough to vote" makes sense;
    1b) "I'm not old enough to vote" makes sense;
    1c) "I'm too old to vote" doesn't make sense.

    2) There's a lower wealth limit for buying a yacht, so:
    2a) "I have enough money to buy a yacht" makes sense;
    2b) "I don't have enough money to buy a yacht" makes sense;
    2c) "I have too much money to buy a yacht" doesn't make sense.

    Conversely, some examples where there's an upper limit, like the original Trump example we're discussing:

    3) There's an upper height limit for fitting comfortably into a cot (crib), so:
    3a) "My child is tall enough to fit into a cot" doesn't make sense;
    3b) "My child is not tall enough to fit into a cot" doesn't make sense;
    3c) "My child is too tall to fit into a cot" makes sense.

    4) There's an upper limit for how much other trouble you can have in your life and still have time/energy to worry about Trump, so:
    4a) "I have enough trouble to worry about Trump" doesn't make sense;
    4b) "I don't have enough trouble to worry about Trump" doesn't make sense;
    4c) "I have too much trouble to worry about Trump" makes sense.

    With lower limits (like buying a yacht), you can have "enough to X" but not "too much to X", whereas with upper limits (like the original Trump example), it's the other way round: you can have "too much to X" but not "enough to X".

    It's a bit like the old "no head injury is too trivial to ignore" example – except that one's more complicated, because it's about whether there's an upper limit for triviality, which translates to a _lower_ limit for importance, and that inversion of polarity is what confuses people.

  29. Paul Kay said,

    February 26, 2019 @ 1:12 pm

    Rachael Churchill writes: 'It makes sense to say "I have too much money to qualify for food stamps", but it doesn't make sense (and I think is ungrammatical) to say "I have enough money to qualify for food stamps", because there's an *upper* limit, not a *lower* limit.' No, " I have enough money to quality for food stamps," is perfectly grammatical. Your explanation about why "it doesn't make sense" is of course correct. What enables you to see that the sentence erroneously presupposes a world in which qualification for food stamps has a lower limit is the very fact that it is a perfectly grammatical English sentence, whose meaning is clear — and ridiculous. Sentences that express contradictions, like "I'm taller than I am," falsehoods, like, "The United States is 1,000 years old," impossibilities, like, I can leap tall buildings in a single bound," and presupposition failures, like, "I have enough money to qualify for food stamps," are all perfectly grammatical. If they were not, we would not be able to confidently assign them to these different categories of "not making sense."

  30. Rachael Churchill said,

    February 26, 2019 @ 2:39 pm

    You might be right. I'm not sure exactly where the boundary of grammaticality is.
    But it's definitely not true that clear meaning entails grammaticality. The meaning of *"Dogs doesn't eating mouses" is clear, but it's not grammatical.
    More relevantly, I think there have been some previous LL posts about polarity constraints being an element of grammaticality. Like how "I don't go there any more" is grammatical but *"I go there any more" isn't.
    I'm not sure whether the example we're discussing is in that category or whether its nonsensicalness is purely semantic.

  31. Andrew Usher said,

    February 27, 2019 @ 12:22 am

    I would strongly dispute that the meaning of "Dogs aren't eating mouses" is clear – I can think of several plausible meanings immediately that proper grammar would express differently (including the use of articles). One of the purposes for which grammar evolves is to reduce ambiguity, and so while grammaticality does not of course imply 'making sense' (colorless green ideas sleep furiously …) the reverse is to a large extent true.

  32. Rachael Churchill said,

    February 27, 2019 @ 3:07 am

    I can't see any ambiguity in *"Dogs doesn't eating mouses" that isn't also present in the grammatically correct version "Dogs don't eat mice" (for example, the ambiguity of whether it's talking about rodents or computer peripherals).

    (I agree that your variant with "aren't" could introduce ambiguity, but here the burden of proof on me is to demonstrate *one* grammatically incorrect sentence whose meaning is clear, not to show that all grammatically correct sentences have clear meanings.)

  33. Rachael Churchill said,

    February 28, 2019 @ 6:20 am

    (I mean "not to show that all grammatically INcorrect sentences have clear meanings".)

    This link about negative polarity items (with some ungrammatical examples) demonstrates the kind of ungrammaticality I was saying I thought (*?)"I have enough trouble to worry about Trump" was an example of: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jlawler/NPIs.pdf
    To me it feels like it's in that category.

    Note that, just because you can replace some words in a sentence with some apparently syntactically equivalent words, that doesn't make the sentence grammatical. One of the examples in the link is "give a damn". "He didn't give a damn" is grammatical; (*)"He gave a damn" isn't; but "He gave a speech" is. The grammaticality of "He gave a speech" doesn't make the superficially similar (*)"He gave a damn" grammatical. So, similarly, the grammaticality of "I have enough money to buy a yacht" doesn't necessarily mean (*)"I have enough trouble to worry about Trump" is grammatical.

  34. Andrew Usher said,

    February 28, 2019 @ 8:28 am

    And I meant, of course, to copy your sentence and "aren't" instead of "doesn't" was just a mistake. Ignoring that, the example is still not convincing. How do you know that "Dogs doesn't eating mouses" corresponds to the standard "Dogs don't eat mice"? If the first sentence were heard or read in reality, you'd have to assume its author was shaky on English grammar – articles may be omitted, 'do' may have been the wrong auxiliary verb, etc. – and one could not assume that one meaning to be correct. Yes, most often the intended meaning can be picked out from context, but that's no different from _grammatical_ sentences.

    It remains true that grammar is necessary to communication (and that's not prescriptivism – I don't mean the One Correct Grammar) and arguing otherwise is silly.

    As for the other point – you diverted the discussion. The question was not when 'enough' can be used in general but when it can mean the same as 'too much'.

  35. Rachael Churchill said,

    February 28, 2019 @ 9:01 am

    "most often the intended meaning can be picked out from context, but that's no different from _grammatical_ sentences." – I agree completely. I thought you were arguing it _was_ different.

    I don't think I have diverted the discussion. The original question was whether (*)"I have enough trouble to worry about Trump" is grammatical. Philip Taylor said it was, because "enough" can mean "too much" in some contexts. I said this wasn't one of those contexts, because the polarity is the wrong way round. Paul Kay said that (*)"I have enough trouble to worry about Trump" is grammatical because "I have enough money to buy a yacht" is grammatical. I said that doesn't necessarily follow, because of (*)"gave a damn" versus "gave a speech".
    If "enough" cannot be used in general in a certain context, then a fortiori it cannot be used to mean "too much" in that context. I'm not diverting the discussion, I'm trying to argue something which, if correct, would logically entail the point under discussion.

RSS feed for comments on this post