lame denials

emckean at ENTERACT.COM emckean at ENTERACT.COM
Fri Sep 14 21:21:19 UTC 2001

I would be very very interested in publishing an article on this topic in
VERBATIM, if anyone needs that incentive to begin research. ..

Erin McKean
editor at

On Fri, 14 Sep 2001, Arnold Zwicky wrote:

> has anyone studied denials of intent in speech?  i have in mind,
> specifically, implausible disavowals of import, as in the following
> three examples (of rather different types):
> 1.  speaker refers to rep. barney frank of massachusetts as "barney
> fag", with evident pleasure in the childishly insulting deformation of
> the name, but later denies intent to insult by claiming it was a slip
> of the tongue.
> 2.  speaker refers to a female colleague of japanese descent as a
> "slant-eyed cunt", but later denies intent to insult by maintaining
> that he sometimes just talks nonsense.
> 3.  speaker asserts that members of the aclu, abortionists, pagans,
> feminists, gays, and lesbians must bear some responsibility for the
> atrocities in new york and washington, because their attempts to
> "secularize America" "make God mad", but a spokesperson denies hateful
> intent by saying these remarks were "taken out of context".
> i do *not* have in mind ordinary speech errors, or misspeakings that
> arise from cluelessness, or even speech actually designed to
> accommodate plausible denial (like a MUCK FICHIGAN bumper sticker),
> but things whose intent and import can be discerned by any reasonable
> hearer, yet are disavowed after the fact.
> and my question was whether such lame denials have been studied - or,
> at least, collected and classified - by anyone.
> arnold (zwicky at

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