"I cannot emphasize"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sat Apr 24 13:16:15 UTC 2010

At 4/24/2010 01:17 AM, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
>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
>>>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).

I don't detest all deadly sins -- some I employ.

But to have "I cannot emphasize how important it is..." and "I can
emphasize how important it is..." mean the same thing seems fatal.

>>  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'

Isn't this different from the "emphasize example?  "I can't tell you
how complicated this problem is", because it's too complicated (for
me to explain or for you to understand), seems different from "I can
tell you how complicated this problem is", but I won't (because I'm
withholding or because you won't understand.


>(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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