Evidence for DECIMATE ('one in ten')

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Jan 10 15:42:16 UTC 2008

At 10:01 AM -0500 1/10/08, David Bowie wrote:
>From:    James Harbeck <jharbeck at SYMPATICO.CA>
>>One thing about prigs, mind, is that they sometimes win the day.
>>That's why we don't use double negatives in "proper" English, why the
>>standard is to say "-ing" with a velar nasal instead of an alveolar
>>one (which had become the standard until it was atavistically
>>corrected on the basis of spelling in the 18th century), etc...
>This brings to mind that when I teach grammar/usage courses, I have my
>students look for cases of things like double negatives in edited texts,
>because we *do* have double negatives in standardized language (of the
>"not unclear" sort, or one of my favorites "I am not going to not
>support the bill").

The cases you just mention are not scorned as such by
prescriptivists, since they don't violate the "duplex negatio
affirmat" rule that has been insisted on in one form or another at
least since Bishop Lowth's pronouncements in the 18th century.  It's
the double negations that cancel out (recently termed "hypernegation"
or "overnegation") that are strongly condemned (as in "I can't get no
satisfaction") as illogical.  While these two phenomena are quite
different, the case of "not un-" sometimes itself comes under
scrutiny, not for its supposed "illogic" (as in the case of negative
concord or pleonastic negation) but for its supposed pointlessness or
pomposity.  (See, for example, Orwell's attempt in "Politics and the
English language" to laugh the "not un-" construction out of
existence by citing the sentence "A not unblack dog chased a not
unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.")  But the complaints here
are of quite a different order, and have a different target, from the
criticism of "I don't want none of that".


>Also, studies of -ing/-in variation show that the patterns inherited
>from Old English -inge/-ende are still maintained to some extent in
>Modern English speech.
>I get what you're saying, and you're more or less right (though my
>negative concord-using self would say that the prigs have only carried
>the day for a very narrow subset of uses of the language), but even for
>the examples that you give, there's got to be a lot of nuance involved
>in making the claim you make.
>David Bowie                               University of Central Florida
>     Jeanne's Two Laws of Chocolate: If there is no chocolate in the
>     house, there is too little; some must be purchased. If there is
>     chocolate in the house, there is too much; it must be consumed.
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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