"Anybody that doesn't think…"

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This was posted yesterday evening by Liz Harrington, who regularly posts Donald Trump's "statements" on Twitter:

Presumably this is an example of Reason 3 that misnegations are so easy to fail to miss (from "'Cannot underestimate' = 'must not underestimate'?", 11/6/2008):

  1. Our poor monkey brains just can't deal with complex combinations of certain logical operators;
  2. The connection between English and modal logic may involve some unexpected ambiguities;
  3. Negative concord is alive and well in English (or in UG);
  4. Odd things become idioms or at least verbal habits ("could care less"; "fail to miss"; "still unpacked").

Some coverage, which mostly just points to the existence of the statement's extra negation, and the widespread mockery of the result:

Daniel Politi, "Trump Statement Accidentally Insults Those Who Believe Election Fraud Claims", Slate 12/5/2021
Asawin Suebsaeng, "Trump Accidentally Posts Statement Blasting His Own ‘Stupid’ Election Lies", The Daily Beast 12/5/2021
Anders Anglesey, "Double Negative in Donald Trump Election Fraud Statement Raises Eyebrows", Newsweek 12/5/2021
Martin Pengelly, "Trump double negative: Twitter sees proof positive of no electoral fraud", The Guardian 12/5/2021

George Conway's Twitter response is clever:

Seriously, I usually don't find it unsurprising when he says something that's not inaccurate, but no one—not even the former guy—can be not correct all the time.

Focusing on the linguistic point, I wonder whether this type of negative concord  is on the rise in aspirationally formal varieties of English (as opposed to the vernacular "I don't want no trouble" type).



  1. Philip Taylor said,

    December 5, 2021 @ 8:46 am

    I assume ("sincerely hope") that "misnegations are so easy to fail to miss" is intentionally self-referential …

    [(myl) Yes. ]

  2. J.W. Brewer said,

    December 5, 2021 @ 9:11 am

    I think the more cromulent negative-concord phrasing would be something like "Ain't nobody who ain't stupid or corrupt thinking there weren't no massive fraud."

    But to myl's question, while Trump's style seems less "vernacular" than that or "I don't want no trouble," it still seems intended to be colloquial/conversational in register, so I'm not sure than "aspirationally formal" fits this particular example. Although maybe that wasn't what myl had in mind? It does seem plausible that "aspirationally" formal register might be more likely to involve complex and/or contorted syntactic structures that outstrip the poor-monkey-brain capacity of their writers to keep polarity straight, although I don't know that I would expect a change over time in the rate of misnegations thereby caused. And in terms of straightforward polarity constructions, I associate things like saying "not unsympathetic" rather than "sympathetic" with a more formal (perhaps aspirationally) register, and while that's fine on a free-standing basis perhaps in a sufficiently complex sentence it may interact badly with other elements to end up with unintended polarity at the sentence level.

    [(myl) What I meant by "aspirationally formal" is just someone intending to use standard English, whether in a conversational or a (more formal) written-language style, as opposed to someone intending to use (or imitate) a vernacular variety in which negative concord has been preserved.]

  3. Anthony said,

    December 5, 2021 @ 10:01 am

    I wonder what percentage of Trump's sentences contain "very." He also uses "very" where another intensifier, like "highly" or "most," is the norm.

    [(myl) See "The most Trumpish (and Bushish) words", 9/5/2015; "Make America rather formidable again", 9/10/2015. Calculating the "percentage of sentences" would be more or less meaningless in this context, because of the ill-defined span of "sentences" in Donald Trump's style of speaking — and in spontaneous speech more generally. See "More Flesch-Kincaid grade-level nonsense", 10/23/2015.]

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    December 5, 2021 @ 10:05 am

    JWB — "not unsympathetic" is characteristic of the well-attested British preference for litotes, admittedly in what you refer to as "a more formal […] register".

  5. D.O. said,

    December 5, 2021 @ 11:42 am

    It doesn't sit well with me as an example of negative concord. I guess, typical examples for me must include negation of a verb and a noun (I will not try to pretend to use precise linguistic terminology correctly). My guess it was a superposition sentence (Schrödinger's sentence, if you must) between "doesn't think … was" and "thinks … wasn't" and then some thermal noise disentangled them and the result came out wrong.

  6. David Marjanović said,

    December 5, 2021 @ 1:22 pm

    I wonder if this is related to another phenomenon I've noticed a few times in English: "I don't think A is B" coming out as "A isn't B, I don't think."

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    December 5, 2021 @ 4:51 pm

    In British English, "A isn't B, I don't think" would be sarcastic, and the speaker would most definitely think that A is B.

  8. AntC said,

    December 5, 2021 @ 5:12 pm

    The allegedly "very corrupt" presumably do think (agree/concede) there was "massive Election Fraud" — indeed they are exactly the people who allegedly perpetrated/supported the alleged fraud.

    Then why lump them with the "very stupid" — who are presumably allegedly gulled into a belief there was no fraud?

    To lump them together would require sth like "Anybody who doesn't claim/acknowledge …"

    (This reformulation still doesn't sort out the mis-negations, but "think" is just wrong.)

  9. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 5, 2021 @ 7:08 pm

    AntC: That's a good point. I suppose, though, that Trump might conceivably have meant that those people are so corrupt they've come to believe what they were corruptly induced to say.

  10. AntC said,

    December 5, 2021 @ 10:55 pm

    @myl "aspirationally formal" is just someone intending to use standard English, whether in a conversational or a (more formal) written-language style, as opposed to someone intending to use (or imitate) a vernacular variety in which negative concord has been preserved.

    Do we have any solid evidence for what is T****'s usual register? He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth (allegedly — although his father had probably just as loose a connection with financial probity); went to Wharton business School/Ivy League; never had to earn his privileges by actual hard work). I don't see he would have mixed in circles to acquire NY Queens' vernacular. What is it he's alleged to aspire to? (I.e. that he hadn't already reached by being born into it?)

    Negative concord is more a feature of AAVE — which T**** surely never mixed with(?) — his father (allegedly) excluding black tenants from his properties.

    the ill-defined span of "sentences" in Donald Trump's style of speaking

    This is the nub: 'aspirationally formal' means to speak in sentences. But "stupid" is not in the formal register; "very" isn't — as others have commented; litotes is, but T**** doesn't seem to understand how it works.

    Given the number of gaffes he committed on Twitter, doesn't he have a media agent to filter his non-sentences? Does Liz Harrington also not know a sentence from a bar of soap? (She's a "former Republican National Committee spokeswoman" [wp/CNN].)

  11. Breffni said,

    December 6, 2021 @ 6:53 am

    Philip Taylor: the British National Corpus has 98 instances of "I don't think" at the end of a sentence: "I wouldn't go into Armada Close I don't think"; "I haven't got the strength and energy to walk there I don't think"; "it's not in the book I don't think"; "but then you haven't got the security of renting I don't think", and so on. In the first 25 hits there's only one that looks likely to be sarcastic: "he looks so hard done by I don't think".

  12. Breffni said,

    December 6, 2021 @ 7:27 am

    Following up: very few instances of sarcastic "I don't think" in the various conversational subcorpora (general conversation, interviews, meetings, consultations, broadcast discussions…), but it's overrepresented in "fictional prose" with at least four of twelve hits: "That's just what you need I don't think"; "Joe Cool hisself I don't think"; "nice goings on I don't think"; "the end to a perfect day I don't think".

  13. Philip Taylor said,

    December 7, 2021 @ 4:14 am

    Breffni — I have the impression, reinforced by your examples, that the shorter the statement preceding "I don't think", the greater the probability that the speaker is being sarcastic. A long preceding statement allows the speaker to forget that he or she has already used negation; a short preceding statement makes this far more difficult.

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