Double negatives

Two One Big Happy strips on double negatives, in which Joe and Ruthie take the slogan Two negatives make a positive into fresh territory. Today, I’ll give you the two strips, with my complete commentary on this blog for the first of these strips, and put off until tomorrow a broad-scale analysis of what’s going on here.

Joe at bat. From my 11/19/16 posting “Two negatives make a positive”

(#1) Note: “say one positive thing”

“Two negatives make a positive” is one way to state a principle of logic, that the negation of the negation of X is equivalent to X. The principle is irrelevant to an account of the syntactic phenomenon that’s popularly called “double negation” (or more generally, “multiple negation”) — often labeled negative concord by linguists — according to which all susceptible elements in a negated clause themselves appear in a negative variant (I didn’t see nobody nowhere, corresponding to standard English I didn’t see anybody anywhere); in languages or varieties or styles with negative concord, two negative elements are just the expression of one negation.

But Joe takes us into new territory, with his novel interpretation — actually, willful misinterpretation —  of the principle of logic (or of algebra, as her father puts it): according to Joe’s interpretation, saying two negative (that is, deprecatory or insulting) things counts conversationally as saying something positive (that is, favorable or complimentary). All to take the opportunity to double down on nastiness.

And now Ruthie at bat:

(#2) The principle that two nasties make a nice seems to have become part of the household kid-lore

To come: on negative / positive (and the massive ambiguity of these paired adjectives) and on the combinatory operation in the verb make (again, referring to a correspondingly huge number of such operations).


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