"No longer scared to hide who I am"

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Jeré Longman, "An N.H.L. Prospect Is the First Such Player to Announce He’s Gay", New York Times 7/19/2021:

Luke Prokop, 19, a prospect with the Nashville Predators, on Monday became the first player with an N.H.L. contract to publicly announce that he is gay.

Prokop, who is from Edmonton, Alberta, made his announcement in an Instagram post, writing, “From a young age I have dreamed of being an N.H.L. player, and I believe that living my authentic life will allow me to bring my whole self to the rink and improve my chances of fulfilling my dreams.”

A third-round selection by the Predators in the 2020 N.H.L. draft, Prokop wrote: “While the past year and a half has been crazy, it has also given me the chance to find my true self. I am no longer scared to hide who I am. Today I am proud to publicly tell everyone that I am gay.”

I've added this to our absurdly long list of "misnegation" posts, in which you can see that Mr. Prokop joins many illustrious predecessors in losing count of (explicit and implicit) negations, so as to say (or write) the opposite of what they mean. And most readers don't notice, for the same reasons that the author didn't.

[h/t Rick Rubenstein]


  1. Kai von Fintel said,

    July 21, 2021 @ 7:24 am

    FWIW, in this case, there's a very close variant that would not be a misnegation: "no longer scared into hiding who I am".

  2. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 21, 2021 @ 8:13 am

    I agree that this is a misnegation, but an unusual thing about it (I think) is that it can be fixed without changing the number of negatives. "I am no longer so scared as to hide who I am" or "I am no longer so scared that I hide who I am."

    By the way, "young age" seems to have taken over from "early age".

  3. Jerry Packard said,

    July 21, 2021 @ 9:42 am

    Pragmatics once again trumps lexical semantics.

  4. Christopher J. Henrich said,

    July 21, 2021 @ 11:11 am

    Perhaps this misnegation is the result of negative concord – "scared to reveal" getting edited into "scared to hide."

  5. Cervantes said,

    July 21, 2021 @ 12:29 pm

    Yes, as a couple of commenters have already noted, this can be explained as an elision. I am no longer scared [causing me] to hide who I am.

  6. KevinM said,

    July 21, 2021 @ 10:06 pm

    The structure the speaker had in mind was perhaps a faulty analogy to, e.g., "no longer forced to hide who I am."

  7. JPL said,

    July 22, 2021 @ 1:08 am

    I would agree with Kai von Fintel that the anomaly here is likely not the result of losing track of negations, but is probably due to the syntactic ambiguity of "scared", resulting from the lack of full expression of the "scaring" situation. I would guess that the speaker's intended meaning, the "thought", in Frege's non-psychological sense, in the background, could be more accurately expressed by a sentence something like, "I am no longer scared (or "intimidated") [by the social pressures and conventional male sports team culture] into hiding who I am", (and not, "I am no longer scared (= "feel scared") to hide …"), where expressing the agent would induce "scared" in a transitive verb construction (passivized), rather than a predicate adjective construction. But perhaps the speaker's use of "to" there indicates that he considers the influence of the social pressure to be not just persuasive, but more coercive and against his will, as would be expressed by something like, "I no longer feel forced by social pressures (etc.) to hide who I am". He is concerned more with the conventional pressure to hide, than with being "scared by social pressure to not reveal" or "feeling scared to reveal". (I started this comment a long time ago but had to break off, and I now notice that KevinM has also proposed the expression using "force".) (The misnegation interpretation would be repaired by, e.g., "I no longer feel scared to not hide …": is that what he was thinking? I don't think that was going to be said.)

    In any case, the intended meaning seems to be more complete and nuanced than the meaning expressed by the sentence uttered; the speaker, with a little more reflection, could probably have come up with a sentence that more faithfully expressed what he intended. My question is, what is the structure of this intended meaning, where does it come from, how is it possible, what does it use, such that it can act as a standard? For the hearer, the interpretations expressed by, e.g., "He is no longer scared" and "he's no longer going to hide" are sufficient for communication, but they would miss the nuance that remains behind the veil. (Frege would probably say that the "thought" expressed by the sentence is objective and non-psychological, but that the intended "thought" is psychological. But I don't want to say that; I want to say that the intended meaning also does not belong to the psychological level of analysis.)

  8. Jerry Packard said,

    July 22, 2021 @ 10:38 am

    The intended meaning is the non-lexical and asyntactic message the speaker wished to convey. The anomaly results from the lexical mismatch performed by the speaker when he chose the words and syntax to communicate the message.

  9. JPL said,

    July 23, 2021 @ 3:27 am

    In fact, simply adding expression of the agent of the "scaring" situation reveals an even simpler path to the anomalous expression: "I have always felt a terrible conventional social pressure to hide who I am, and this pressure has always scared me; but now ", where "scared" is a transitive verb (passivized) and it's "pressure to hide" as the agent, and not "scared" as predicate adjective and "(feeling) scared to hide". The syntacticians can provide the proper terminology. But there is a difference in polarity (pos/neg) involved in the difference between these two constructions wrt orientation toward the goal of the "hiding" situation, so a failure to disambiguate "scared" does, I would have to admit, result in a case of misnegation.

  10. JPL said,

    July 23, 2021 @ 4:03 am

    Sorry, I used the horizontal wedges as brackets in my example, and this apparently is a secret code for computer programming, so what was within the brackets was omitted. The example should read: "I have always felt a terrible conventional social pressure to hide who I am, and this pressure has always scared me; but now 'I am no longer scared by [this conventional social pressure to hide who I am]'", and resuming with, 'where "scared" is ….', etc. The resulting italicization after that point was not intended. What a mess!

  11. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 23, 2021 @ 10:44 pm

    JPL: For me, that would have to be "I am not scared [by this pressure] into hiding who I am," which is back to Kai von Fintel's original comment.

  12. JPL said,

    July 24, 2021 @ 7:51 pm

    Jerry Friedman:
    Changing "by" to "of" in the example would probably serve the purpose more clearly (mind the brackets): "I am no longer scared of [NP]". ("pressure", "force", etc. vs. "scared", "reluctant", etc. differ in polarity wrt achieving the telos in the "hiding" situation.) (In the comment I'm concerned with trying to find an explanation for the occurrence of the puzzling sentence (e.g., losing track of multiple negations or something else (which is suggested by Kai's comment)) by pursuing a possible logical mechanism.) (The Qs in para 2 of my first comment remain to be explored.)

  13. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 25, 2021 @ 10:39 am

    JPL: Sorry, I misunderstood your "pressure to hide who I am" version, but I get it now.

    Not speaking for anyone else—well, maybe speaking for some people. When I agreed that this was a misnegation, I wasn't suggesting any kind of explanation or mechanism. I was just commenting on something about the structure of the sentence that others had observed, namely, that it would express the intended meaning if you added a "not" in the right place. I also mentioned that this is an unusual example in that you can get the intended meaning by making changes that don't appear to change polarity. Kai had already pointed that out, but I either hadn't seen it or hadn't noticed it.

    I think your speculation on how it happened is possible. My speculation is that people's utterances have key elements that communicate their meaning and put those elements together with familiar but not necessarily compositional syntax. In this sentence, the key elements include "I", "no longer", "scared", "hide" (and form of the verb), and "who I am". I imagine there are many syntactically plausible way of putting those together that would get the meaning across, and many speakers and writers might not notice if the way doesn't express the intended meaning compositionally.

    That accounts for danglers and many other errors, discourtesies, etc., as well as for misnegations.

    For another example, at the end of my second paragraph above, I originally wrote, "either I hadn't seen it or hadn't noticed it". That's non-standard because the two conjuncts connected by "or" should "logically" be parallel, but it has all the key elements. In fact, all it needed was for me to reverse "either" and "I", which I proceeded to do.

    Anyway, some linguist has probably said all this better.

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