odd double negative

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Wed Aug 24 19:48:46 UTC 2005

That seems like the best way to form this double negative.

Now he can't not hurt anybody/nobody

are both okay, but "somebody" sounds much more natural to me.

Benjamin Barrett
Baking the World a Better Place

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society
> [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Jonathan Lighter
> "Now he can't not hurt somebody."
> This strikes me as an odd slip of the tongue ("Now he can't
> hurt anybody" is a pretty straightforward expression), but it
> also seems to be atypical of a simple double negative   As to
> the "slip" theory, this "can't not" construction has become
> pretty common as a kind of litotes; in such a case the
> sentence would mean, "Now it's impossible for him not to hurt
> somebody," or "Now he must hurt somebody" (though the latter
> is certainly less idiomatic than it might have been a century
> or so ago).

More information about the Ads-l mailing list