"I cannot emphasize"

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Fri Apr 23 15:46:20 UTC 2010

On Apr 23, 2010, at 7:12 AM, Joel S. Berson wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      "I cannot emphasize"
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> What category does this fit into?  Written about e-Bay.

> I cannot emphasize how important it is to check on shipping costs,
> which can vary wildly.

it looks like a (venial) type of undernegation, with the negative
polarity element "too much" suppressed, presumably because it can be
supplied by the cooperative reader/hearer, perhaps on the grounds that
the high-end-of-scale understanding is already provided by "how Adj"
'very Adj' and doesn't need further expression in "too much".  no
doubt larry horn can comment.

certainly "I cannot emphasize how" is incredibly common.  a very few
examples from among many:

   Rest and Eat Well. I cannot emphasize how important this is. I had
to learn the hard way.

   I cannot emphasize how fantastic the pizza is at Al Forno, and what
a tragedy it will be if you leave this place without having tried it.

   Your research is one of the most important parts of your project.
It is the basis for what you will be presenting to the judges. I
cannot emphasize how important understanding the correct background
information is.

fair number of examples on GB.  but all the examples that come easily
to hand strike me as informal in tone.  though probably an industrious
ADS-Ler can find more elevated or "serious" examples.  i'm inclined to
think that this is a language change that has already happened.


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