"Neither is refusing to budge an inch"

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The mess in Washington is providing plenty of opportunities for misnegation. Today, John Bresnahan at Politico got tangled up in budging and cut loose with a classic — "Bad blood: Four feuding leaders":

But the personal animus extends beyond the leaders. Along with their bosses, aides to Boehner and Reid are in an undeclared war and neither is refusing to budge an inch.

A list of LL misnegation posts is here.

The obligatory screen shot:


  1. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 12:14 am

    While looking for something else, I happened on a claimed misnegation in one of the greatest prose works of all time [*]. The claim is in this essay on Anna Karenina. I'd copy the text here, but the margin between now and my bedtime is too small to contain so much typing.

    True, it's in the thoughts of a character, but the character is based on the author, and if he thinks in non-standard language, nobody's mentioned it to me.

    [*] So I'm told. I don't read Russian or thousands of other languages.

  2. Adrian said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 4:04 am

    An article on the BBC website this morning contains the sentence "They found achievement and teaching in RE was less than good in six out of 10 primary schools, and in fewer than half of secondary schools." http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-24399813 I'm guessing there's a mistake there, but it's hard to tell.

  3. Robert Coren said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 11:07 am

    @Adrian: I'd say the "mistake" is writing a sentence whose meaning is nearly impossible to determine.

  4. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

    I went to the original report (by Ofsted, which always makes me think of The Handmaid's Tale and possibly Oprah Winfrey). It says, "Achievement and teaching in the 91 secondary schools visit were only good or better in just under half the schools." There, that should clear everything up.

    The best I can do is that the BBC sentence should have "more than" instead of "fewer".

    I'm going to type in that bit from Limits to Interpretation: The Meanings of Anna Karenina, by Vladimir E. Alexandrov, for the overnegation record.

    "This leads Levin to the even more remarkable conclusion that there is no sin or error in his own misguided rationalism: 'and even less than children scolded by their mother for their childish pranks do I feel that my childish refusal to let well enough alone is not to my credit' (799, VII.13). (The Russian is actually somewhat unclear because of a double negative that allows a reading opposite to the above: 'i eshche menee, chem deti, kotorykh mat' branit za ikh detskie shalosti, ia chuvstvuiu, chto moi destskie popytki s zhiru besit'sia ne zachityvaiutsia mne,' which means, literally, 'even less than children who are rebuked for their childish mischief by their mother do I feel that my childish attempts to kick because I am filled do not count against me.')"

    (Apparently "filled" means "spiritually sated".)

  5. James said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

    On the Politico misnegation: particularly interesting because there are only two negations. Doesn't it usually take three to confuse experienced writers?

    Maybe the "budge an inch", which is a Negative Polarity Item, adds to the pile-up.

  6. Rubrick said,

    October 7, 2013 @ 1:34 am

    The statement as written is probably, strictly speaking, correct: The two sides have each mostly been accusing the other of intransigence, while claiming to be open to compromise themselves. So neither side is refusing to budge an inch; they're merely failing to budge an inch due to the supposed lack of good-faith offers from their adversary.

    Not, of course, that I think the caption author meant anything of the sort.

  7. dw said,

    October 7, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

    My guess is that the original was something like "neither is willing to concede an inch", and that someone subsequently edited the wording without correcting the negation.

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