Three negations in one headline

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From François-Michel Lang, "I had to read the article to be sure I understood what exactly had happened!"
The Kentucky measure bans access to gender-transition care for young people, and West Virginia’s governor signed a similar bill on Wednesday. Passage of bans also appears imminent in Idaho and Missouri.
By Campbell Robertson and Ernesto Londoño, NYT (March 29, 2023)
Here follow the first five out of seventeen paragraphs in the article:

The Republican-dominated Kentucky legislature voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to override the governor’s veto of a bill that will create a host of new regulations and restrictions on transgender youth, including banning access to what doctors call gender- affirming health care.

The bill, described by L.G.B.T.Q. rights groups as among the most extreme in the nation, was vetoed on Friday by Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, but it was overridden in both the State House and Senate, where Republicans hold supermajorities.

The law, which began as a fairly narrow bill but steadily grew into a much larger package of restrictions, specifically bans surgeries, puberty blockers and hormone therapy for children under 18. It also forbids school districts from requiring or recommending that students be referred to by pronouns that “do not conform to a student’s biological sex as indicated on the student’s original, unedited birth certificate.”

The law also compels doctors to cease treating patients who are undergoing gender- transition care, adding that if physicians deem that ceasing treatment is likely to “harm the minor,” they may set a time frame to “systematically” phase out treatment.

In addition to the new rules governing transgender youth, the law also puts limits on what can be discussed in schools, requiring schools to give notice to parents about any program on the subject of sexuality, barring teaching on sexuality below the sixth-grade level and banning lessons at any grade level about gender identity or sexual orientation.

So much contention and contestation leave one's head in a whirl.
Selected readings


  1. Laura Morland said,

    April 1, 2023 @ 6:06 am

    Hmmm… do you think this headline truly presents any difficulties for a native English speaker conversant in U.S. politics?

    I was looking forward to disentangling a headline, but I found no problems here!

  2. Craig said,

    April 1, 2023 @ 6:32 am

    Well, if the headline got you to read the article, then it did its job, right?

    But I don't see the problem. It's not as if the negations were all piled on one term, like "I never didn't not go there."

    There was an anti-trans bill.

    The governor vetoed it.

    The legislature overrode the veto.

    It's really quite straightforward, especially you know that Kentucky has a Democratic governor but a heavily Republican legislature.

  3. RP said,

    April 1, 2023 @ 6:33 am

    I think 'override' and 'veto' are comparatively clear vocabulary in the context of negation. 'Anti-trans' is also clearer than 'anti-transgender'.

    It’s surely possible to make it a bit harder to parse, just using synonyms.

    “Lawmakers counteract the overruling of anti-transgender law.”

    It’s still not too bad, though, since it’s a fairly short sentence.

  4. Cervantes said,

    April 1, 2023 @ 7:06 am

    Yeah, I'm not getting what you perceive as a difficulty here. Headline and article seem crystal clear to me, both conceptually and syntactically. You need to understand what a veto and a veto override are but it's reasonable for news writers to assume readers have basic civic literacy.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    April 1, 2023 @ 7:29 am

    I must confess that I had to do a double take, nay, a triple take, when I first encountered this headline to make sense of it, partly because I was under the (mistaken) assumption that most governors of Kentucky have been Republicans, which is not true, at least not in the last half century or so.

  6. Mike said,

    April 1, 2023 @ 7:34 am

    I disagree with most of the commenters. I find these headlines difficult to digest, especially when you don't have context. The BBC is bad for it (I'm in the UK)

    "Sunak refuses to rule out reversing Truss's budget U-turn"

  7. Victor Mair said,

    April 1, 2023 @ 8:27 am

    Good one, Mike! Trifecta + 1!

  8. Francois Lang said,

    April 1, 2023 @ 8:56 am

    After Mike's BBC headline, can anyone come up with a real headline with five direction changes?

  9. David Morris said,

    April 2, 2023 @ 7:06 am

    Not a headline or even real-life, but in The complete plain words, Sir Ernest Gowers includes "The Opposition refused leave for the withdrawal of a motion to annul an Order revoking the embargo on the importation of cut glass."

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 2, 2023 @ 7:01 pm

    As noted above, this is easy to follow if you understand the procedural situation(s) being described, but if not, not. In lawyers' AmEng you might find a sentence like "The appellate court reversed the lower court's denial of the defendant's motion to suppress evidence." Unremarkable and perfectly clear if you understand how the institutions in question work; possibly baffling if you don't.

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