hypernegative "miss not" in Hemingway

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sat Oct 8 14:35:34 UTC 2011

On Oct 8, 2011, at 3:23 AM, Eric Nielsen wrote:

> "I miss not being there" seems to be fairly common: 36 results in GB;
> 210,000 results in plain old Goog.
> Eric

I never said it wasn't common; I was just surprised, and pleased, to find it in a literary source.  Most of the other GB entries seem to be from popular novels, memoirs, or invented or recalled dialogue rather than edited prose.  Looking at the 36 results you mention for "I miss not being there" in GB, for example, the one clearly literary source is Simone de Beauvoir, but that's a translation, not Beauvoir herself:

Vincent asked, "Are you going over to Marconi's later?" "No, I've got too much work to do." "Too bad! If only once we could all enjoy the same thing together! We'll miss not having you with us!" "And I'll miss not being there.[…]"

I noticed one of these involved William F. Buckley's _The Right Word_, but the actual example comes from the interviewer and not Buckley himself:

"Do you miss not being there [at the National Review]? Do you miss the sense that you are no longer running the place even though you are, in the end, the ultimate, I guess, authority?"

I can just see WFB's eyebrow raise to the ceiling when he heard the "miss not"…

As to literary precursors, Mark Liberman kindly provided this directly germane instance from the Master:


Letter of Henry James to Charles Eliot Norton, Aug. 28th, 1891:

It is only the conspiracy of hindrances so perpetually characteristic of life in this place, even when it is theoretically not alive, as in the mid-August, that has stayed my hand, for days past, when it has most longed to write to you.
Here again is another matter as to which I really miss not having the opportunity to talk with you.

> On Fri, Oct 7, 2011 at 4:14 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>wrote:
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>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>> Subject:      hypernegative "miss not" in Hemingway
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> One of the betes noires of the prescriptivists is "miss not Xing" in the =
>> sense of 'miss Xing'.  Here, for example, is Lederer:
>> Let's look at a number of familiar English words and phrases that turn =
>> out to mean the opposite or something very different from what we think =
>> they mean: I really miss not seeing you. Whenever people say this to me, =
>> I feel like responding, =93All right, I'll leave!=94 Here speakers throw =
>> in a gratuitous negative, _not_, even though _I really miss seeing you_ =
>> is what they want to say.
>> OK, a classic instance of hypernegation in colloquial language, =
>> presumable edited out of careful prose.  The examples I had previously =
>> collected are from informal speech, TV dialogue, blogs, etc.  But here =
>> is Ernest Hemingway, writing in _A Moveable Feast_, describing an =
>> ill-fated trip in the 1920's he had taken with Scott Fitzgerald from =
>> Paris to Lyon and back.  Fitzgerald comes across as gifted but quite =
>> unsympathetic--malingering, self-indulgent, drunk, and needy, who is now =
>> ordering Hemingway to fetch a thermometer to confirm that he =
>> (Fitzgerald) is dying of "congestion of the lungs". Hemingway is fed up, =
>> reflecting (at least in retrospect--he actually wrote the manuscript =
>> decades later in 1960) as follows:
>> =3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D
>> Scott was lying with with his eyes closed, breathing slowly and =
>> carefully and, with his waxy color and his perfect features, he looked =
>> like a little dead crusader. I was getting tired of the literary life, =
>> if this was the literary life that I was leading, and already I missed =
>> not working and I felt the death loneliness that comes at the end of =
>> every day that is wasted in your life. I was very tired of Scott and of =
>> this silly comedy, but I found the waiter and gave him the money to buy =
>> a thermometer and a tube of aspirin and ordered two _citron presse's_ =
>> and two double whiskies.
>> =3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D
>> [_A Moveable Feast_, New York: Scribner's Sons, 1964, p. 165-66]
>> It's clear from the context that what Hemingway reports missing is =
>> *working*, not *not working*.=20
>> Does anyone have any examples handy of other literary (pleonastic) "miss =
>> not"s?  I didn't find anything terribly interesting via Google Books, =
>> and I couldn't find a relevant entry in the OED under "miss".
>> LH=
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