Nobody Does It Like Sara Lee?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Apr 19 15:33:18 UTC 2005

At 9:34 AM -0400 4/19/05, Wilson Gray wrote:
>On Apr 18, 2005, at 10:51 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>>Subject:      Re: Nobody Does It Like Sara Lee?
>>At 2:55 PM -0700 4/18/05, Allen Maberry wrote:
>>>I could say "everybody dislikes something" but I don't believe I
>>>would ever say, "everybody doesn't like something", or "nobody
>>>doesn't like X [Sara Lee, apple pie, mom, etc.]" but I could say
>>>"nobody dislikes X". I don't have any explanation why that is,
>>>unless there is something about inserting "does/doesn't" that makes
>>>it sound strange to me when used in these phrases.
>>I don't think it's the "does" that does it, since the same would
>>apply in non-do-support contexts (cf. "Everybody isn't here",
>>"Everyone can't come").
>>Besides the garden path factor I mentioned earlier (the fact that
>>"everybody doesn't like X" tends to be interpreted, all things being
>>equal, as "not everybody likes X", while this reading is ruled out
>>when negation is incorporated into the predicate as in "dislikes"),
>>there's the fact that the two readings of the awkward ambiguous
>>"Every...not..." statement each has an unambiguous paraphrase that
>>tends for this reason to be preferred:  "not everybody likes X" for
>>the wide scope, [NOT [EVERY]] negation and "nobody likes X" for the
>>narrow scope negation, [EVERY [NOT]].  While "Everybody dislikes X"
>>isn't quite a paraphrase of the latter, since it amounts to a
>>stronger, contrary negation rather than a simple contradictory of
>>"Somebody likes X"*, it does unambiguously have narrow-scope negation
>>and thus doesn't suffer from one fatal flaw of "Everybody doesn't
>>like X".
>>A possible paraphrase of the full Sara Lee ditty which doesn't suffer
>>from the ambiguity flaw is "Everybody has something they don't like
>>(...but for nobody is that something Sara Lee)".  I guess it has
>>other flaws, though.
>>*disliking is stronger than simply not-liking, so that "Nobody likes
>>X" can be true while "Everybody dislikes X" is false, namely if
>>nobody has a favorable opinion toward X while some people just feel
>>sort of wishy-washy about X.  The former amounts essentially to the
>>non-existent "Everybody not-likes X".
>Didn't someone once speculate that the colored probably couldn't
>understand this slogan because of the use of the double negative in
>"Nobody doesn't like...," since two negatives don't make a positive in
>non-standard English? That is, the slogan would be interpreted as a
>version of "Do(es)n't nobody like..."
Hmmm, I hadn't thought of that.  That's certainly a possible
interpretation (and not just for AAVE speakers, since negative
concord is a lot more widespread), but on the flip side...
(1) at that time, at least, negative concord in TV commercials would
have been relatively unexpected*, and speakers who control negative
concord would be likely to be at least passively aware of cancelling
double negation, even if they wouldn't use it themselves
(2) note the singular agreement:  "Nobody don't like Sara Lee" would
be more likely interpretable as a universal rejection.
(3)  given that it's clearly a Sara Lee commercial, the negative
concord interpretation will yield a bit of cognitive dissonance
("Nobody likes it, but why don't you go ahead and buy it anyway...").

This reminds me a bit of the claim that the Chevy Nova model was an
utter failure in Spanish-speaking countries because "no va" means
'doesn't go'.  The problem is that there's no evidence whatsoever
that the name had any depressing effect on sales--i.e. that Novas
sold worse in Latin America than comparable models with different
names, or worse than Novas sold in comparable non-Spanish-speaking


*my favorite example of such usage is more recent, although I think
no longer extant.  It's the bilectal jingle for the Wiz sporting
goods chain that used to be played a lot on WFAN and other radio and
TV outlets a few years ago:

"Nobody beats the Wiz
(Ain't nobody gonna beat the Wiz)
Nobody beats the Wiz
(Ain't nobody gonna beat the Wiz)


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