Double positive


A Visiting Lecturer to the English Department at the University of Ulster opened a morning lecture on semantics and the usage in English grammar of the double negative. He cited examples of the usage in both Chaucer and Shakespeare. ”Ther nas no man nowher so vertuous” from Chaucer’s Friars Portrait, and from Shakespeare’s Richard III “ I never was nor never will be.”

Though syntactically considered ‘bad grammar’, the double negative is still widely used often to express a positve as in “you cant just do nothing” and a negative as in “he didn’t do nothing.”

The lecturer went on to point out that the true miscreants of English grammar are the Americans whose use of the double negative is accepted grammar, quoting Ronald Reagan saying “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” as a taunt to his opponents, and a familiar put down, “you don’t care for nobody but yourself.” The lecture ended with a comment that there are no examples in language where a double positive can express the negative. In a  bid to educate the educated, a voice from the back of the lecture theatre was heard to say “Aye Right!”

I tell this well documented story to introduce a line from a letter sent to the Russian Minister of Justice Vladimirovich Konovalov by the American Attorney General Eric Holder. The letter addresses the Edward Snowden request for asylum in Russia claiming he may face torture or the death penalty if returned to the US. Having dismissed the claims as without merit, the Attorney General went on to say:

“Second, Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States.”

Aye Right!


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