"There is no number too small"

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On this morning's State of the Nation program, Jake Tapper asked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez this question:

Negotiations are- are ongoing
on an economic stimulus package
chief White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow could be
as high as two trillion dollars. Y- you suggested
that's still not enough.
If you were writing this bill
how much would you spend
and where would the money go?

and she began her reply this way:

Well I think uh first and foremost
((It-)) There is almost no number too small.
I don't think a lot of people out there really understand
the systemic shock that is being experienced in the economy right now.

You can listen to the exchange here:

As documented in our list of misnegation posts "No post too obscure to escape notice", we humans often get get turned upside down by the combination of negation and scalar predicates in modal or hypothetical statements. A few examples:

"Too complex to avoid judgment?" 2/21/2004
"No detail too small" 11/27/2009
"No wug is too dax to be zonged" 11/28/2009
"No head injury", 3/10/2016
"(Not) not too crazy", 6/13/2017

[h/t Paul Kay]



  1. Andrew Usher said,

    March 23, 2020 @ 1:48 am

    I wouldn't have phrased it that way, no doubt, but of course it has to be 'no number too large' in the context. I think, as of now, that these cases of misnegation are interesting only if they help build a general theory of the phenomenon.

    But far more importantly, and needing to be said, is that this alleged crisis is hardly at all being caused by the disease itself – it's being caused by the illogical, inconsistent, and burdensome over-reaction to it. If all these measures really were effective and necessary, then they should have been done before the virus started spreading, as they would be no more costly at that point.

    They (deliberately vague pronoun) are literally stealing a good portion of everyone's life (in both senses) without giving us any choice. This is worse than even the 'security' nonsense following Sep. 11, and is a shameful and cowardly panic.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  2. David Marjanović said,

    March 23, 2020 @ 4:13 am

    I took it as "there's no number too small to start with, anything is better than nothing right now".


    An underreaction, as seen from Italy.

    I mean, COVID-19 has already overturned American elections (a popular criticism of impeachment, as I remember). Of the 53 Republican senators, one has tested positive and must stay away from the Senate, and four more have recently been close to him and are also in quarantine; 48 being less than 50, Majority Leader McConnell is now finding that he can't get any bills through the Senate without votes from the other party.


    The wind does not respect a fool.

  3. Jonathan said,

    March 23, 2020 @ 4:46 am

    It has felt for a while like the comment section of LanguageLog was being taken over by cranks and fools. The Covid-19 pandemic has really let them flower. Does anybody know any other blog that has a similar emphasis to LL's but without the loonies?

  4. Andrew Usher said,

    March 23, 2020 @ 5:39 am

    Yeah, that's excellent – of course I'm a 'crank' or 'loony', and ruining all of Language Log (!), because I won't just shut up and go along with the establishment panic – though I haven't and won't deny any facts regarding the disease or its spread.

    David Marjanovic:
    As for the political note, that's an indictment of Senate rules at the most, but it should not be necessary to debate that right here.

    Your interpretation of her comment is logically possible, of course, and I admit I hadn't thought of it because this post didn't lead me to – but I don't think it's likely to be actually said, especially given the context and the word 'almost' preceding it.

  5. Chester Draws said,

    March 23, 2020 @ 8:59 am

    Contrarian views are not permitted in these times Andrew! No matter that many epidemiologists agree with you, our place is to agree with whatever our Lords and Masters decree.

    You're welcome to find an analogue to Language Log where contrarian voices are not heard Johnathan. You may find that places with no-one to disagree are both boring and have lots of errors that are not challenged.

  6. Viseguy said,

    March 23, 2020 @ 10:32 am

    On a quick first reading, I mentally interpolated "There is almost no number that wouldn't be too small" — which is maybe an approximation of what she meant to say.

  7. Rick Rubenstein said,

    March 24, 2020 @ 1:47 am

    Andrew U, you're not ruining Language Log because your views are contrarian or controversial. You're ruining it because you're using the comment section of a linguistics blog as a soapbox to air opinions that have nothing whatever to do with linguistics. "Needing to be said…" I think this does not mean what you think it means.

  8. Rodger C said,

    March 24, 2020 @ 7:34 am

    Heh heh, he said soap and air. (However, I concur.)

  9. Andrew Usher said,

    March 24, 2020 @ 8:58 am

    I am hardly the first or only person to make comments or posts here with non-linguistic content, and I only posted it once. Often, as here, there's just not much linguistic to discuss anyway – regardless, I am certainly not shutting down or interfering with anyone's attempt to do so.

    "There is almost no number that wouldn't be too small" makes sense, and it means something not very different from "there is almost no number too large", but either way it got garbled.

    I'm not currently able to figure out what standard of grammar allows calling things like this errors, while dismissing other logic-based prescriptive grammar rules. If it is (as I think I've heard) that most people either wouldn't say such things or would recognise them as mistaken when explained, I'm not sure that wouldn't apply to some prescriptive rules also.

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    March 24, 2020 @ 1:53 pm

    In the phrase "Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez", does "Rep" mean "Republican", "Representative", or something else ?

  11. Andrew Usher said,

    March 24, 2020 @ 6:17 pm

    Representative. There would be a period after it in edited writing. Party affiliation, when abbreviated, is denoted by (D) or (R) after the name; she is a Democrat, so the full citation would be

    Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D)

    – the hyphenated Ocasio-Cortez being, I imagine, one of the ways Spanish naming conventions get anglicised.

    I hear your government chickened out on the coronavirus – I bet it wasn't because of mass popular outcry.

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