No Double-Negatives! (unless you're using them usefully)

| Friday, June 1, 2012
My thoughts on language generally follow this rule: I'm saying it correctly.  Everyone else is either failing to get with the times or rushing off pointlessly to destroy language.

However there is more philosophy to it than that.  More analysis perhaps.  I believe that language is mostly arbitrary (not to suggest that it is purely accidental, but that the particular rules don't matter much), with a few stable rules.  Words we use often should be short.  Words should add meaning (so for example, only describe something as fucking-something if that is different than just something, such as if you're really mad, in which case, take full advantage of the ability to make any profanity into a noun, verb, adjective, or one-word soliloquy). And finally, when in doubt, steal the word from another language rather than making our own.

That last one is why I think English is superior to every other language, especially French, where they have the ridiculous notion that words have to be approved.  This from the people who the Romans found to be barbarians barely capable of speaking Latin.  We don't call them the Romance languages because they're romantic, but because they're what happens when you try to say "Roman" but slur and trip over the words and add syllables that aren't supposed to be there.

In light of all this, I want to propose one applied rule (the others were more like guidelines subject to interpretation): Don't use double negatives unless the added negative adds meaning.  For example, "I haven't got nothing."  Contrast that with, "I haven't got anything", and "I have got nothing."  And contrast that last one with "I haven't gotten anything."  The first one (the double negative) indicates that the person doesn't have anything, but might be putting emphasis on it, or is just talking wrong, since adding "at all" after anything would achieve the same purpose, or if we're using spoken words, putting emphasis on anything would emphasis the total lack of it.  The last sentence is clearly indicating a different situation: Not only does it say whether they have anything, but also indicates a lack of receiving anything, such as if they'd just come from a Soviet breadline.

However, if someone were to say "I haven't go nothing" and we were in a world in which double-negatives were not used frivolously, then we could interpret it as "I have something" but the speaker is being defensive: they may have been accused on having nothing or it has been implied and rather than merely trying to make a positive statement about having something, they must also refute the claim of nothingness.  Alternatively, they could be acting sly, as if their boss told them they are out of inventory but since they've been skimming they still have some extra to sell on the side, so the store might be out, but that doesn't mean that the speaker has nothing.

By now you're probably thinking something like "Klepsacovic, your complete disregard for grammatical convention makes you unqualified to propose any rules" to which I say "fuck you!"  Or maybe you're thinking "Why did you keep using have got when merely saying have is sufficient?"  I did that because we don't usually say "I have not anything", despite that seeming to make sense.  Maybe I'll start saying that and drop the gots.

Before I leave you all to argue with me, I want to add one last rule: Oxford commas should be strictly enforced, under penalty of removal of the offending body part, whether tongue, fingers or brain in the case of new telepathic computers.  Oops.


Anonymous said...

Also I fully agree that the French has a problem when it comes to integrating foreign words, I disagree with your statement that English is superior to every other language (especially French).
Words we use often should be short?
No, words we use often should be pleasant to use.

Umrtvovacz said...

As a "Grammar Nazi" I approve the message of Your last paragraph, in which you talk about commas, as they're esthetically pleasing and make a block of text easier to read. The way Oxford commas work is very similar to my own language (Czech, one of Slavic languages), thus it feels natural to me. But I also know advantages of commas, as well as double and triple and multiple negatives, which are quite common in Czech as they are in all Slavic languages. Multiple negatives give you ability to bend your language in ways otherwise not possible, you can "color" or "mood" certain sentence or give it a slight touch of wholly different meaning, etc... Of course Slavic languages are much more complex and complicated then Germanic languages (f.e.: English and German).

You should be glad your language is so easy everyone can learn it. Look how Czech language works. ( - mind you, this is simplified. A lot.) This not anything you want to emulate in English. Despite giving us tools to make our communication deeper and more informative, rules like this have no place in international language.

Just keep taking our words, like Robot, which is Czech word derivative from word robota, which means statute labour. Word sobota also comes from this, meaning Saturday, the day vassals had to work on theirs lord's fields.

Tesh said...

Odd that you'd associate French with adding mushy syllables to "Roman" when they have a tendency to not even pronounce the syllables they have already.

Klepsacovic said...

I'm merely repeating the words of the Romans, who found the Gauls to be incomprehensible barbarians.

Paul said...

Teacher: "In some languages, a double negative is a postive. In other languages, a double negative is a negative. However, in no language is a double positive a negative."

Student at the back of the room: "Yeah, yeah."

Klepsacovic said...

I like that one! Though what's at play there is sarcasm rather than grammar.

Post a Comment

Comments in posts older than 21 days will be moderated to prevent spam. Comments in posts younger than 21 days will be checked for ID.

Powered by Blogger.