lame denials

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Fri Sep 14 23:15:36 UTC 2001


Have you checked the legal literature (which is rife with comment on
"intent," including verbal)? Maybe Ron or Bethany will jump in.


>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

Dennis R. Preston
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
preston at
Office: (517)353-0740
Fax: (517)432-2736

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