Hagel "refused to stop efforts to end terrorist attacks"

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Earlier today, "Patriot Voices" (Rick Santorum's PAC) sent out an email containing the following paragraph:

I strongly oppose President Obama's nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense because his confirmation would send a dangerous signal to Iran and other radical Islamic elements which would make our country and our allies less secure. Not only did Senator Hagel tip off the Iranians that he would not use strength to prevent them from obtaining nuclear weapons, he disrespects our strongest ally in the middle east, Israel. Time after time, Sen. Hagel has sought to distance the United States from Israel and refused to stop efforts to end terrorist attacks on Israel. [emphasis added]

This is my nomination for misnegation of the month.


  1. Paul Trembath said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 7:47 pm

    Failing to see what the correct negation would look like. Is it that he has stopped the efforts rather than refusing to stop them? (Perhaps he was politely suggesting that Israel might benefit by respecting international law and common humanity, but is now keeping his silence).

    [(myl) It's not clear what Sen. Santorum meant to write, but it might have been "…tried to stop efforts to end terrorist attacks…" or "…refused to support efforts to end terrorist attacks…" or "… opposed efforts to end terrorist attacks…" or …]

  2. Andy Averill said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 8:02 pm

    It's a very nice triple misnegation, somewhat hard to spot because it's lacking the most common negative terms (no, not, neither, nor, never, nothing, none etc. — I want to say n-words but that's something else). Here's how it breaks down:

    terrorist attacks = you're pro terrorism
    end terrorist attacks = you're anti terrorism
    stop efforts to end terrorist attacks = now you're pro again
    refuse to stop efforts to end terrorist attacks = anti again

    which is the opposite of what Santorum means to say.

  3. David M. said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 8:06 pm

    Looks fine to me, I just wish it'd mention whose requests (that he stops the efforts to end terrorism against Israel) he keeps refusing.

  4. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 9:49 pm

    @Paul Trembath: Kudos on wrapping up your tendentious claim as a presupposition, in the hopes that people won't notice your failure to support it. That's an excellent application of Julie Sedivy's advice for politicians.

  5. idlemind said,

    January 12, 2013 @ 2:21 am

    The way I read it seems to agree with what I expect he intended to write: that is, assuming there are efforts to end terrorist attacks on Israel, Sen. Hagel is accused of refusing to stop those efforts. So the accusation is that he has allowed, through inaction, others to proceed in their efforts to limit Israel's actions against terrorist attacks.

  6. idlemind said,

    January 12, 2013 @ 2:28 am

    Whoops, I realize now that my first interpretation reproduces the original mis-negation and the second elides it. I guess I was so familiar with Santorum's views that I missed the original error. What's weird is how I repeated the same error in my initial rephrasing!

    It's way past my bedtime…

  7. BobC said,

    January 12, 2013 @ 8:16 am

    I usually try to tease the meaning out of something like this by applying a quasi-mathematical algorithm. I assign a + or a – to each part of the phrase, and multiply. So here:

    terrorist attacks: –
    (efforts to) end: –
    stop: –
    refuse: –
    Then (-)x(-)x(-)x(-) = +
    So refusing to stop efforts to end terrorist attacks is a good thing.

  8. maidhc said,

    January 13, 2013 @ 3:33 am

    I suppose there's some subtle political point at work, but the use of "end" seems a bit strange to me.

    For example, you might say "I support our local police and their efforts to prevent residential burglaries in our community". You wouldn't say "to end burglaries", as though there were some action that the police could take that would somehow disallow burglaries from ever happening ever again for all time, and presumably allow the police force to be disbanded as they would no longer be needed.

    It gives it the flavor of "if it weren't for people like him, there would be no terrorist attacks", which I suppose it's intended to have the flavor of, without coming right out and saying it. Coupled with the misnegation it's even weirder, but it was weird to start with.

  9. Oliver said,

    January 13, 2013 @ 7:38 am

    Why do you think that words like "end" or "refuse" imply a negation?

  10. Ellen K. said,

    January 13, 2013 @ 8:56 am

    Because refusing to do something means NOT doing it. And ending something means no more of that something.

  11. Oliver said,

    January 13, 2013 @ 11:19 am

    Refusing also means saying or otherwise indicating unwillingness. By that logic you could argue that sitting is a not getting up and standing is not walking. Or agreeing is not refusing.

  12. James Dallas said,

    January 13, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

    @Oliver Well, as Rex Harrison (as Prof. Henry Higgins) might have said: "By George, I think he's got it!"

  13. Greg Bowen said,

    January 13, 2013 @ 7:12 pm

    @Oliver: Consider how "refuse" interacts with negative polarity items.

    "David is refusing to allow her any contact with Sean"
    "he refused to ever respond to anything that was said in the tabloids"
    "The agents refused to budge, saying they were dead either way"


    *David agreed to allow her any contact with Sean
    *he agreed to ever respond to anything that was said in the tabloids
    *The agents agreed to budge, saying they were dead either way

  14. Oliver said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

    David keeps blocking her every contact with Sean.
    He kept his silence about anything that was said in the tabloids
    They agents were steadfast, saying they were dead either way

  15. Greg Bowen said,

    January 16, 2013 @ 2:06 pm


    I'm not sure what your point is with that last comment. I demonstrated that "refuse" accepts negative polarity items, such as "any," "ever," or "budge," whereas "agree" does not. This suggests that speakers see "refuse" as having a negative component to its meaning, but not agree.

    Your sentences lack negative polarity items apart from "anything" in the second one. It feels a little iffy to me in isolation, so I'd love to see the context of wherever you took it from, but it suggests that "keep silence" licenses some negative polarity items and does indeed have a negative component to its meaning. Could you demonstrate this same phenomenon for "sitting," "standing," "agreeing," and "being steadfast"? I'll grant you that "blocking" licenses negative polarity items, since I can find examples myself without difficulty:

    "more sophisticated tools to block malware from ever running on a PC"
    "several other conservation groups worked to block any new uranium claims"

    So words or expressions like "end," "refuse," "block," and perhaps "keep silence" do in fact imply a negation, but this does not mean that all words do.

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