Nobody Does It Like Sara Lee?

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Tue Apr 19 17:39:44 UTC 2005

On Tue, 19 Apr 2005 11:33:18 -0400, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>

>At 9:34 AM -0400 4/19/05, Wilson Gray wrote:
>>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...").

Speaking of negative concord in TV commercials, I recall that Burger King
had a mid-'90s ad campaign for the Whopper using Marvin Gaye's song "Ain't
Nothing Like the Real Thing."  That struck me as an unfortunate choice,
since people might provide the interpretation "It ain't nothing like the
real thing" rather than "There ain't nothing like the real thing."

A more recent example of unfortunate burger-chain sloganeering is "You
gotta eat!" for Checker's/Rally's.  As King Kaufman wrote on,
this could be interpreted as: "(What the Heck), Ya Gotta Eat! (or you'll
starve, and eating our burgers is marginally better than starvation)."

--Ben Zimmer

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