deny = 'to affirm (the opposite of something)'

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sat May 4 15:38:13 UTC 2013

In other words, a remnant of the pleonastic negation that English used to be fond of (with verbs of fearing, forbidding, doubting, etc.) and that run rampant in other languages.  Not quite as common these days with "deny", I don't think, as with "miss" (I miss not seeing around) or "surprised…if" (Don't be surprised if it doesn't rain).  Jespersen treated such examples as instances of fusion or blending.

"deny…not…" is a bit more straightforward a case of pleonasm than "doubt…not…", given that "doubt" used to be used in something like the sense of 'fear, suspect', as in the first although probably not the second of the cites below; these also involve an additional negation, so that three negatives are making a positive (instead of the expected negative), rather than two negatives making a negative.

"It never occurred to me to doubt that your work...would not advance our common object."                                                        (Charles Darwin, cited in Jespersen (1917))

"There is no doubt that the commissioner will not give Pete an impartial hearing."
(Pete Rose’s lawyer Reuven Katz in radio interview, 24 Aug. 1989)

and that added complexity is also the case in a "deny" example like this one, unless you allow for the negative implications of "catastrophe":

No one denies that a baby with a neural tube defect isn't a catastrophe, but…
Dr. Philip LaMastra, quoted in New Haven Advocate, 8.19.1981

The S. T. Joshi example Jon culled, with its unnegated "deny" and embedded pleonastic negation, is Shakespearean in its syntax if not its elegance; cf.

First he denied you had in him no[= any] right. .
(Comedy of Errors)

You may deny that you were not[= that you were] the mean of my
Lord Hastings late imprisonment. (Richard III)


On May 4, 2013, at 7:59 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:

> I've heard this construction on TV news twice before, only within the past
> year or two:
> :
> "Some Bierce scholars, notably Lawrence I. Berkove, are eager to deny that
> Bierce was not a misanthrope—that he did not *hate* human beings in the
> mass but was merely *disappointed* with them. I generally agree with that
> view."
> The word is used correctly in the very next sentence.
> JL
> --
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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