Don't be discouraged from not voting

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Ben Yagoda spotted a nice case of overnegation on NPR's "Morning Edition" earlier today, when Renee Montagne interviewed political science professor Michael McDonald about early voting. After explaining that Obama was leading in early voting in Nevada, McDonald said, "I don't want to discourage people from not voting today."

Here's the audio and my transcript (NPR transcript here):

McDonald: And those, um
those votes are breaking, um, heavily, uh, in favor of Obama
ah, and the polling shows a lead for Obama in the state
so, it would be very unusual for Mitt Romney to somehow
um, come from behind to win Nevada.
But still, you know, it's possible…

Montagne: And…

McDonald: …and I don't want to discourage people from not voting today.

Montagne: Right.

This particular misnegation crops up here and there online:

This is one way to intimidate and discourage people from not voting. (link)

Perhaps requiring a legitimate ID in order to vote may discourage many from not voting. (link)

so each of these counties, as well as counties in other crucial swing states is to frighten those undecideds with xenophobic, jingoistic race baiting or discourage those undecideds from not voting. (link)

He said such a campaign was intended to create fears and panic among aliens, aimed to discourage people from not voting for the NPP. (link)

Of course, not every case of "discourage X from not voting" is a misnegation. Take this example from MSNBC's Chris Matthews, talking with Brian Williams about Iraqi elections in 2005:

Was it that clean? Was there no pushing by American soldiers or coalition forces to make people vote or discourage them from not voting? Was it a clean turnout, in other words? (link)

McDonald likely intended to say either "I don't want to discourage people from voting," or "I want to discourage people from not voting," but ended up with one negative too many. As with so many misnegations, it's easy to see how it transpired.


  1. Joe Green said,

    November 6, 2012 @ 5:16 pm

    This reminds me that I heard Ann Romney the other week saying (something like) "We're too stupid not to be fooled by that" (probably referring to something that Obama had said). Ah, good old stupid monkey brain, I thought.

  2. Joe Green said,

    November 6, 2012 @ 5:17 pm

    Or maybe it was "We're not too stupid…"

  3. Henning Makholm said,

    November 6, 2012 @ 5:38 pm

    Should she rather have said, "we're too stupid to fool"?

  4. James Iry said,

    November 6, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

    Or "I don't want to discourage people into not voting."

  5. Joe Green said,

    November 7, 2012 @ 12:34 am

    While we're on the subject, and worthy of a post in itself perhaps, Fox News currently says "The race in Ohio, though, remained airtight". Is this journalese or an Americanism? Merely "tight" surely?

    [(bgz) Perhaps they got tired of saying razor-tight.]

  6. maidhc said,

    November 7, 2012 @ 5:51 am

    I recently sent out a message along the following lines:

    "If the status shown above does not read 'OK', your transaction has not yet been approved."

    It seems clear enough to me:
    OK = approved
    anything else = not approved

    Yet people seemed to have difficulty understanding it. I always thought I knew how to speak English. Is there some Law of Negativity that I never learned?

  7. Joe Green said,

    November 7, 2012 @ 7:26 am

    @maidhc: to be pedantic, as you've phrased it, OK = nothing-can-be-deduced. But still, I think your intended meaning is clear enough, although the double negative could have been avoided in the first place… "the status reads OK only when your transaction has been approved" or something.

    @bgz: razor-tight? That isn't even a word, surely? At least airtight means something, however inappropriate for its use here. Oh those wacky journalists.

  8. Joe Green said,

    November 7, 2012 @ 7:28 am

    @bgz: oh, hmmm, sorry, didn't follow your link before expostulating.

  9. Ethan said,

    November 7, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

    On the post-election overnegation front…
    This morning's Washington Post "winners and losers" blog says:

    They [Obama's campaign team] helped to re-elect a president with an economic headwind the likes of which few politicians would have been unable to run into.

  10. ryan said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 12:31 am

    Maybe he meant it. Maybe he didn't want to be accused of stirring up apathy.

    [(bgz) If so, then he would want to discourage people from not voting (= encourage them to vote). But he said he didn't want that.]

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