Archive for the ‘Negation’ Category


September 13, 2015

On the 11th, Mark Liberman returned to the expression could care less on Language Log, thanks to an xkcd cartoon that day, which I reproduce here:

He uses the expression as an implicitly negative idiom, conveying something like couldn’t care less, but a bit more compactly. She peeves at him, he analyzes what she might be doing with her peeve, and eventually he uses the idiom to her.


Giving two hoots

September 1, 2015

A follow-up to my “What a hoot!” posting, which was about a set of senses of hooter that turn out almost surely to be related. One of these is mammary hooters (as in the restaurant’s name), and there’s some question about its history (though it’s clear that it predates the restaurant); there are sources that attribute the item to Steve Martin on Saturday Night Live, but for reasons I’ll expand on here, I was very wary of the idea.

That’s the first hoot.

Then, as so often happens when I post about specific uses of particular lexical items, people wrote me about other uses, which are really beside the point of my posting, or about other items that are merely similar to the target item (usually phonologically). Now it can be entertaining to follow up such associations, but that’s at the risk of losing the point. Occasionally I’ve followed these associations, though I try to mark associative chaining off from the main line of the posting, as when I branched from a posting on Ficus plants to a collection of loosely fig-related other things: the fig leaf of modesty, Fig Newtons, figgy pudding, giving a fig for, the fig sign,

So: soon to loosely hoot-related things. That’s the second hoot.


The literalist

May 21, 2015

Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm, with a literalist Ralph coping with Grimm’s could care less:

could care less has been a perennial topic on Language Log and this blog. But in all the discussion among linguists and psycholinguists no one disputes that there’s an idiom here, and it has a negative element of meaning that is not overt. Ralph the literalist essentially denies this, implicitly taking the position that if Grimmy meant he couldn’t care less he should have said that.


Fig time

May 20, 2015

A couple days ago I caught a snippet of a discussion on KQED-FM about overwintering fig plants. Why people were discussing the topic as we near the beginning of summer I don’t know, but there it was. I’m not caring for any fig plants here in Palo Alto, but back when I lived in Columbus OH most of the year I had two: a Ficus benjamina, a very common house plant in temperate climates; and a Ficus carica, the plant the people on the radio were talking about (an ornamental and the source of the figs we eat), which I grew in Columbus as a potted plant, to serve as a reminder of California.

Now some figgy reflections, starting with some Ficus plants and then wandering on to other fig-related matters: the fig leaf of modesty, figgy pudding, Fig Newtons, and the negative polarity item care/give a fig.


Jury of English majors

May 18, 2015

Via Gregory Ward, a Mark Parisi cartoon from 5/19/09 showing a man in a witness box protesting “I didn’t do nuthin’!”, with the jury all thinking “Ooo! A confession!” — a jury of English majors, as the caption says.

In the popular imagination, English majors are so committed to the idea of grammatical correctness that they are unable to understand non-standard varieties.


Notes on malnegation

March 12, 2015

My posting of the 7th on miss not +Ving (as in I miss not getting the morning paper) has been getting a lot of views; at the moment, it’s #2 in number of views, behind only the long-standing top posting, on parts of the body. (Quite often, all the top ten postings in this regard have to do with sex or sexuality — but the “miss not” posting doesn’t.) At the same time, in looking at my files, I see an enormous number of postings on malnegation (or misnegation) — either overnegation (as apparently in this case) or undernegation (as apparently in could care less) — in Language Log and this blog (and also in some other linguablogs, for example Neal Whitman’s Literal-Minded blog), but no summary inventory of this material. It turns out that preparing such an inventory would be quite a substantial task, for a number of reasons, including one that became clear to me when I looked at Facebook comments on my “miss not” posting.


miss not

March 7, 2015

A Pickles cartoon posted by Andy Rogers on Facebook:

Andy’s comment: “Negation is SO CONFUSING!” Actually, most people seem not to be confused by such negation examples, and in fact tend not to notice that there’s anything notable about things like “I miss not having the morning newspaper”, which they read as just emphatic negation.


Caring less

August 6, 2012

Via Eleanor Houck on Facebook, this poster from Grammarly:

Grammarly is peeving obtusely here, affecting to misunderstand an idiom — could care less — that’s been around for at least 60 years and is now a commonplace. No modern speaker should fail to understand the intended meaning of the idiom.


Negatives and positives

June 20, 2012

From Tim McDaniel, this link to Brad Guigar’s Evil Comic (of the 18th):


Indifference to negation

June 26, 2011

It went past me on the radio as I was going to sleep, so I didn’t get the details of either form or context, but the crux of the matter was the possibility of either can or can’t in

I’ll see if we can/can’t [do something or other]

Huge numbers of both on the net. Compare these two:

I’ll see if we can’t do something for you in the next version. (link)

But I’ll see if we can do something for you so you can try it out. (link)

At first glance, it looks like this is a case of simple negation indifference (as Chris Potts labeled it in 2004): adding or removing a negation without change of meaning.

There are (vaguely) parallel cases that Potts inventories (and that I’ll look at in a moment), but this one has its own assemblage of features, three different factors. And, I’ll argue, the variants are semantically close but nevertheless distinct.



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