"Lawyers for Trump had not provided no basis…"

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Sometimes the reason for too many (or too few) negations is an editing slip, and I'm guessing that this is an example. Fadel Allassan, "Appeals court denies Trump bid to shield records from Jan. 6 panel", Axios 12/9/2021:

In a 3-0 decision, Judge Patricia Ann Millett wrote that lawyers for Trump had not "provided no basis for this court to override President Biden's judgment" that the documents, held by the National Archives, should not be protected by executive privilege.

But the "poor monkey brains" theory may help such slips from being caught by readers.

The obligatory screenshot:

[h/t Ruth Blau]


  1. J.W. Brewer said,

    December 10, 2021 @ 5:29 pm

    One can, however, praise Axios for providing a link to the full opinion from which the direct quotation is taken, which confirms that the "not" added right before the direct quote is in fact a misnegation.

  2. JPL said,

    December 10, 2021 @ 6:57 pm

    So the quotation in the title should read, "Lawyers for Trump had not 'provided no basis …'". Axios could just as well have included the original sentence's subject and tense marker after their "…wrote that…" So why did somebody write down that sentence in that careless disjointed way? The original sentence puts the focus of the negation on the logical relation, "no basis", i.e., "no good reason" supporting their bare claim, a repeated problem in the Trump lawyers' unserious brief, and a much stronger expression than "Former President Trump has not provided any basis ….", which focuses the negation on the failure in the behavior of the lawyers, and would constitute a watering down of the original expression. The fact that the Axios writer was intent on focusing on the behavior of the lawyers rather than the logic of the argument suggests that they were unaware of the significance of that distinction, making the report inaccurate wrt the judge's original intention. I think that possibly Judge Barrett was highlighting this as an instance of a much bigger problem with Trumpworld discourse in general, and that is that it has increasingly become disengaged from the standards of rational argument, e.g., the idea that assertions require the support of reasons and evidence, so that the conditions for meaningful dialogue are no longer there.

  3. Robert Coren said,

    December 11, 2021 @ 12:02 pm

    They had not provided no basis, nohow.

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    December 11, 2021 @ 12:17 pm

    A few points:

    1. The formulation in the opinion that the headline quoted in part is a very conventional way for judges to write that long predates any specific concerns about "Trumpworld discourse." Here's an instance from a decision of the same court in 2002, in a case that wasn't particularly headline-grabbing or politically charged: "The second problem with the present complaint is that Totten has provided no basis for concluding that, even if the defendants did present claims to Amtrak, those would be 'claims' within the meaning of § 3729(c). "

    2. On the other hand, a certain sort of "double negative" formulation could also be conventional and unsurprising in the judicial-opinion genre. I would not find it at all unusual if I were to read a sentence in an opinion like "We do not mean to suggest that [PLAINTIFF] has provided no basis for [THE RELIEF HE SEEKS]; however [HE LOSES ANYWAY BECAUSE THE OTHER SIDE'S CASE WAS STRONGER]." However, it would be odd for a headline to focus on that (court found that the plaintiff's arguments had some support rather than no support) rather than the bottom line (plaintiff lost). And if you did want to focus on that in the headline for some reason, this particular headline would still be a bad way to do it because of the likelihood it would be taken as an inadvertent misnegation.

    3. Judicial opinions will typically attribute arguments made and evidence presented to the litigant, even though everyone knows in context that it was the litigant's lawyers who were doing the argument-making and evidence-presenting. It doesn't strike me as peculiar for a journalistic paraphrase to make that implicit point explicit for a broader readership, although I guess overemphasizing that point in a given situation might be noteworthy.

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