"I cannot emphasize"

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Sat Apr 24 05:17:04 UTC 2010

On Apr 23, 2010, at 9:21 AM, Larry Horn wrote, re "I cannot emphasize
how important it is...":

> At 8:46 AM -0700 4/23/10, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
>> 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.
> I was thinking "cannot overemphasize" might be another source, but I
> see from googling that "cannot stress how" is also incredibly common,
> and "overstress" is much rarer than "overemphasize", so I agree that
> it's more likely a matter of incorporating an "enough" or "too much"
> into the verb itself in these contexts.

thanks for clarifying that whatever is going on here isn't a matter of
suppressing/omitting *specific words*, but rather of not supplying
certain content.  also for adding at least the verb "stress" to
"emphasize"; i'd imagine that "underscore" and maybe some others are
in there.  i can't make judgments here, because the usage isn't mine
(or, clearly, Joel Berson's, since he detests it).

>  Maybe the speaker thinks
> that to say one "can't emphasize enough/too much how [+ high scalar
> adj]" is emphasizing it too much, so the reanalysis to "can't
> emphasize how [+ high scalar adj]" is emphasizing it enough.

nice idea.

but here's a complication.  the following is fine for me as an
emphatic utterance:

   I can't TELL you how complicated this problem is.  '(I'm telling
you that) this problem is very complicated'

(and could serve as a model for the sort of example we've been talking
about).  here there's no unspoken element like "too much".

i have no idea what the range of data is here -- i'm just thinking on
my feet, so to speak (not that i'm actually on my feet at the moment)
-- but there might be more in the mix.


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