1 day since big-font misnegation

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A sign displayed at yesterday's congressional impeachment hearing:


The background is described in this NY Post story: "Republicans use giant signs to counter impeachment case", 11/13/2019.

An earlier example:

In our discussions of misnegation, we've often observed that scalar concepts (like "N days since X") often play a role — see e.g. "Indistinguishable misnegation", 7/23/2016. But usually there are also negation-words and modals to make the semantic computations more difficult. This is an unusual case where there's nothing going on except the polarity of the scalar concept.

You can see what the count really means in the common work-site signs like this one, which means that there was an injury 297 days ago:

Or this parody version, which means that there was an accident yesterday:

So the featured sign means that Adam Schiff last followed house rules 0 days before the sign was displayed, i.e. on that day itself. The authors' intended meaning requires adding a negation: "0 days since Adam Schiff didn't follow house rules", or maybe "0 days since Adam Schiff violated house rules".



17 Comments

  1. Philip Taylor said,

    November 22, 2019 @ 6:06 am

    "So the featured sign means that Adam Schiff last followed house rules 0 days before the sign was displayed, i.e. on that day itself". Yes, that was clear from the outset, and the only interpretation that the sign could have. But what message is the sign trying (but failing) to convey ?

    [(myl) The intended message is that Schiff's conduct of the hearing violates house rules. I'm not sure what particular violation was meant to be alleged — maybe this one? ]

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    November 22, 2019 @ 7:00 am

    Ah, so it should have read "0 days since Schiff violated house rules" — now I understand. Thank you.

  3. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 22, 2019 @ 9:03 am

    Or something like "Consecutive days of Adam Schiff following House rules: 0".

  4. Martyn Cornell said,

    November 22, 2019 @ 10:23 am

    The mention of Fiona Hill there reminds me that some commentators appear confused by her accent, with Molly Jong-Fast in the Daily Beast calling it "northern British". It is, of course, North East of England, though considerably toned down and softened, at least to this Southern Englishman's ears. I'm not sure what a "northern British" accent would be – Scottish, of some sort?

  5. Peter Berry said,

    November 22, 2019 @ 10:54 am

    "North Britain" has meant Scotland since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, and was especially popular in the 19th century, with notable uses by Walter Scott and the North British Railway Company. It's fallen out of fashion since then.

  6. D.O. said,

    November 22, 2019 @ 11:28 am

    Some British politicians (or maybe only ones from England) call Scotland "North of the border". I don't think that American state-level politicians tend to use that phrase to refer to a state just to the north of theirs, it all the way to Canada even if you are in Louisiana.

  7. James Wimberley said,

    November 22, 2019 @ 12:17 pm

    I don't get the problem. The sign is clear, correct – and in fact complimentary to Schiff, who has carried out his duty to keep the whistleblower's identity secret.

  8. cameron said,

    November 22, 2019 @ 12:50 pm

    @James Wimberley: the sign in question is not the one in the post, it's the one in the Twitter link at the beginning of the post

  9. KevinM said,

    November 22, 2019 @ 1:49 pm

    Hmm. Could be a zero paradox. That is, there's a tension between "0" and the concept of "since," which implies some elapsed time interval, however small. The sense, then, could be that Schiff has yet to follow the House rules. (Well, I tried.)

  10. D.O. said,

    November 22, 2019 @ 4:32 pm

    Looking at it again, the usual "since accident" signs have a word "last" in them. But not the one put up by Republicans. The word "since" is ambiguous, it can refer to the beginning of things as well as to the end, though probably the end is the default one if there is no countervailing factors (is it what is called implicature?). If we interpret the sign as 0 days since Rep. Schiff began following the rules, it might mean that he is yet to do it at all.

  11. Andrew Usher said,

    November 22, 2019 @ 11:18 pm

    Which is, near enough, their intended meaning. It's difficult to understand this as a straightforward misnegation, even though it does seem problematic.There's really no negation involved, and it's not clear that there should be.

    The suggested correction '0 days since A.S. violated House rules' is not idiomatic, as 'violated' implies a one-time event while 'since' (and the spirit of such signs in general) is meant to convey some ongoing state.

    I would come up with, avoiding the unintended meaning while conveying the intended in a more idiomatic manner: '0 days that A.S. has followed House rules'. But perhaps that's still not as good as the actual sign.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  12. Robot Therapist said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 2:42 am

    I guess the intended comparison is not with "x days since last accident" but "x days of safe working".

  13. Philip Taylor said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 5:03 am

    Andrew — "The suggested correction '0 days since A.S. violated House rules' is not idiomatic, as 'violated' implies a one-time event while 'since' (and the spirit of such signs in general) is meant to convey some ongoing state." — yes, I agree. I was going to write "0 days since Schiff last violated house rules", but in the end decided to try to stick to the original as far as possible.

  14. Ray said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 5:24 am

    "297 days have passed since the last injury" "one day has passed since the last accident" "100 days have passed since adam schiff learned the identity of the whistleblower" "No days have passed since adam schiff followed house rules"

    what is the problem? is it the concept of never?

  15. Gregory Kusnick said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 12:18 pm

    Algebra nerds might argue that what they meant was not no time but infinite time since he followed House rules — i.e. he never followed them. So the "misnegation" then would be writing zero-to-the-plus-one instead of zero-to-the-minus-one.

  16. Ray said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 1:38 pm

    "zero" is one of those critters that people have had problems grasping since, like, the ancient greeks. it can be both a numeric placeholder and a representation of none/nothing at the same time. "zero is infinity's twin," as charles seife wrote:

    https://www.salon.com/2000/03/03/seife/

  17. BruceBrown said,

    December 4, 2019 @ 6:51 pm

    'Nunes said "everything I spoke to Rudy Giuliani about is nothing that I wouldn't care if the American people found out."'

    https://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/congress/article238035489.html

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