"double negative" (P.S.)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Jan 14 01:24:19 UTC 2008

At 8:10 PM -0500 1/13/08, Laurence Horn wrote:
>At 4:37 PM -0800 1/13/08, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>>Saw this yesterday, serendipitously as usual:
>>   2006 Ian McEwan in Robin Headlam Wells & Johnjoe McFadden _
>>(London: Continuum) 41: Their paper...ended with the famously modest
>>conclusion: 'It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing
>>we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism
>>for the genetic material.' 'It has not escaped our notice...' - the
>>drawing-room politesse of the double negative is touchingly
>>transparent. It roughly translates as 'Look at us everybody! We've
>>found the mechanism by which life on earth replicates, we're excited
>>as hell and can't sleep a wink...'
>>   Seems to mean "single negative," unless somebody can reason more deviously.
>The implication is that "escaped" is negative in import, although not
>in form, so "has not escaped" is a double negative (the kind that
>does cancel out, not a hypernegation), along the lines of "X is not
>without its charms", a frequently commented on construction.
(In the good olde days, the Ian McEwans of the world would have
referred to "not escaped our notice" (or "not without") as litotes,
far more elegant (and less ambiguous) a characterization than "double
negative".  O tempora, etc.


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