A Little Double Negative Never Hurt No One

March 20, 2009


Generally speaking I try to abide by the established grammatical rules of the English language. It’s not like I am one of those notorious, red-pen happy, sentence correcting, self-appointed grammar policemen. But, as I see it, the rules are there to provide writers and readers, speakers and listeners with the proper tools to engage in a standardized and efficient communicative experience. 

If the powers that be decided that we should capitalize the first word of a sentence, so then gosh darn it, you aren’t going to see me begin a BeingBaumbastic blog post with a lower case letter.  When it comes to following such linguistic principles, I see myself more as a lemming, not a rabble-rouser. Well 98% of the time at least.

 Yet, I have to confess I cannot in good faith support the prohibition of the double negative. In case you need some brushing up, you arrive at a double negative when two negations occur used in the same clause.  The lyrics of one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs ‘Satisfaction’, (I can’t get no….. ) is a classic double negative, and so is the title to that 90s high school comedy Can’t Hardly Wait.  Which, for the record, I watched last week on either TNT or TBS and doesn’t really hold up that well. Ten years later Preston Meyers just comes off as creepy.

Anyway, while double negatives are deemed kosher in some languages, Bishop Robert Lowth pulled a Joseph McCarthy and placed them on English’s grammatical black list way back in the 18th century called with his book A Short Introduction to English Grammar with Critical Notes.

Lowth reasoned that tag-teaming negatives simply equates to a positive and is consequently repetitive and unnecessary.   And supposedly, employing the double negative suggests that you are uneducated. Oh the stigma!

Recently the double negative has been creeping into my sentences. While, I am writing this post, I am mid-air on a Delta flight from JFK to LAX. I just got back to my seat after trip to the bathroom and the facilities on this flight are not NOT clean. Whoopsies, did I just use a double negative? Yes, in fact I did. I guess I could have said just transformed the two negatives into a positives and said, the bathroom are clean, but that’s not exactly true. There was some toilet paper lying on the ground and the sink could use a good bleach treatment.  As I see it, the double negative provides a specific description for the bathroom; it captures certain ambiguities that the singular positive can’t necessarily cover.  

While we are on the subject, here are a few other of my favorite double negative phrases:

  • There isn’t a reason to not (insert random activity here such as go biking or socialize ).  For what its worth, this is the way I go about my decision making for the day. Yep, it’s tough being me. 
  • I can not barely sleep. Usually my roundabout response when someone asks me did I get a good night’s rest. Sure it might sound confusing but you got to keep the masses on their feet. 
  • He’s just not NOT that into you The title for my non-existent screenplay. 

You get the idea. Besides, the double negative ads some Baumbastic-esque spunk and personality to the  aforementioned clauses. That’s something that Lowth character can not take away from me. Clearly I am going to keep on fighting the good fight and am not not going to start a revolution over this. Who is with me?








One Response to “A Little Double Negative Never Hurt No One”

  1. Chris Says:

    Technically, “Can’t Hardly Wait” isn’t a double negative. Because while hardly can mean “not” as in, “that’s hardly surprising,” it more often means “barely,” or at a “minimum,” as in, “hardly working.” Or according to Merriam Webster’s, it can be “used to soften a negative “

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