Triple negatives and Conservapedia’s support for Hitler

In an entry entitled “Negatives” in his Modern English Usage, Henry Fowler gave an amusing collection of examples of blunders that had been made with them. (If you follow this link, you have to scroll down a page to find the article I’m talking about.) Unaware of this, though not surprised to see it, I have been making a little collection myself. Since this is supposed to be a maths blog, let me feebly justify posting it by saying that it is a reflection on the fact that (-1)^3=-1 (and at one point on the corollary that (-1)^4=1).

1. The first example is something I was once told about a landmark I had asked the way to. I was told that it was large, so that at a certain point on the route, “You can’t fail to miss it.” Fortunately, I did fail.

2. On February 25th 2009, David Thompson, a political correspondent from BBC News, wrote: “No-one would deny that David and Samantha Cameron come from anything other than extremely privileged backgrounds.” I find this a very hard example to understand directly. The easiest way to deal with it is to substitute “claim” for “deny” and see what you get. But I could just go ahead and be a counterexample to Thompson’s assertion: I hereby deny that David and Samantha Cameron came from anything other than extremely privileged backgrounds.

3. On May 2nd 2009, at the weigh-in before his fight with Manny Pacquiao, Ricky Hatton declared to his fans, “You will not go undisappointed.” This defeatist attitude is unusual in a boxer, but it was justified: he was knocked down twice in the first round and knocked out completely in the second.

4. In July 2009, Nathan Hauritz, part of the Australian cricket team, was talking about Australia’s prospects for the last two days of the Test match at Lord’s. He said: “None of the boys don’t think we can’t do the job.” As an Englishman, I am delighted to say that his team’s collective pessimism was again justified.

5. When it came to the one-day series a couple of months later, the tables were turned. An English supporter, reflecting on the situation, wrote in to the BBC website and included the sentence, “Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t overlook the weaknesses in this team though.” He gets a prize for a quadruple negative, but I cannot agree with him: moaning about the weaknesses of our national sports teams is one of life’s pleasures if you are English.

6. Finally, I come to a deeply sinister example. I recently learned that there is a website called Conservapedia, which describes itself as “An encyclopaedia with articles written from a conservative viewpoint.” I look forward to their mathematics section when they get round to it, which so far they haven’t: Grigory Perelman, a noted communist, claims to have solved the Poincaré conjecture, but he has REFUSED to publish his results in a conventional journal, in case they are scrutinized objectively and not just by a team of hand-picked liberal academics; the heat equation and the wave equation are examples of the now-discredited category of evolution equations; using a notion of creation and annihilation operators, quantum field theorists are starting to understand what the Bible could have told them all along; etc. etc. Unfortunately, it seems that Conservapedia is not a Wiki-style site — I can’t think why not — so we mathematicians cannot help them build up a decent mathematics section.

Just for fun I thought I’d have a look at what they have to say about Richard Dawkins. Some of their criticisms were only to be expected: he supports evolution, is a noted atheist, and so on. But I was taken aback by one of them: he is insufficiently solid in his support for Hitler. Here is the passage that shows this (at least as the article was on October 13th 2009 — I hope this blog’s portion of cyberspace is sufficiently disconnected from Conservapedia’s that it will remain that way, but if not, it will be interesting to see whether it can still be found in the history of the revisions of the article):

Dawkins’ Comment Regarding Adolf Hitler

When asked in an interview, “If we do not acknowledge some sort of external [standard], what is to prevent us from saying that the Muslim [extremists] aren’t right?”, Dawkins replied, “What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler wasn’t right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question. But whatever [defines morality], it’s not the Bible. If it was, we’d be stoning people for breaking the Sabbath.”
The interviewer wrote, regarding the Hitler comment, “I was stupefied. He had readily conceded that his own philosophical position did not offer a rational basis for moral judgments. His intellectual honesty was refreshing, if somewhat disturbing on this point.”

Well, in one sense it is a genuinely difficult question I suppose. HITLER WASN’T RIGHT. HITLER WASN’T RIGHT. HITLER WASN’T RIGHT!! Hmm, nothing seems to be preventing me from saying that, and I say it without apology. But why was Dawkins not offended by the suggestion that something should be preventing him from saying that Muslim extremists aren’t right**? Perhaps, being a somewhat literal-minded scientist, he was having thoughts such as this: “Well, it does at first seem as though there is nothing to prevent my saying that Muslim extremists aren’t right, but I can imagine circumstances under which I would be so prevented. For example, if I was kidnapped by al-Qaeda and held at knifepoint, then it would be reasonable to say that I was effectively prevented from drawing attention to the lack of rightness of their views. Or for a less artificial example, if I was in the middle of a dinner party with some of my super-bright liberal atheist friends, then I might be prevented by embarrassment from saying that Muslim extremists weren’t right: after all, the statement is normally held to be too obvious to be worth saying, so I might be thought to be protesting too much. Yes, on reflection, this is a genuinely difficult question. And similar difficulties apply if I substitute Hitler for Muslim extremists.”

So much for Dawkins. The motives of his interviewer, and of Conservapedia for gleefully reporting the interview, cannot be explained so innocently. The only reasonable explanation for the interviewer being “stupefied” is that he regarded it as manifestly and shockingly wrong to say that Hitler wasn’t right. In other words, the interviewer was not just a neo-Nazi, but so convinced of his/her neo-Nazism that a contrary view was stupefying. And Conservapedia wholeheartedly agrees with this. We live in worrying times.

As a postscript, let me deal with a small technical point concerning the last example. It might seem as though “What is to prevent us from saying that Hitler wasn’t right?” has just the two negatives “prevent” and “not”. So why do I call it a triple negative? The answer is that I am talking morality rather than semantics in this example. Hitler is the embodiment of evil, so we can build up as follows:

(i) Hitler — bad.

(ii) Saying that Hitler was right — bad.

(iii) Saying that Hitler wasn’t right — good.

(iv) Preventing someone from saying that Hitler wasn’t right — bad.

(v) Implying that one ought to be prevented from saying that Hitler wasn’t right — bad.

And therefore,

(v) Conservapedia — bad.

Needless to say, if anyone else has some good examples of triple negatives, I’d be delighted to hear them.

**Most embarrassingly, when I posted this, I wrote “are right” instead of “aren’t right” here. My only consolation is that I noticed before it was pointed out to me.

72 Responses to “Triple negatives and Conservapedia’s support for Hitler”

  1. Henry Segerman Says:

    A friend of mine, Rick Rubenstein, once constructed this monstrosity:

    “Though there’s no doubt that disbelief in one’s inability to avoid contradiction goes against the notion that refusal is inadequate as a counter to a lack of antipathy, and indeed is nothing if not antithetical to such an absence, I’d be the last to deny that it is nonetheless no proof against a failure to misunderstand. But perhaps I’m being too negative.”

  2. BrettW Says:

    I’ve always liked:

    A linguistics professor was lecturing to his class one day.

    “In English,” he said, “a double negative forms a positive. In some languages though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However,” he pointed out, “there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative.”

    A voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah. Right.”

  3. luca Says:

    Here is a quadruple negative:

    “A Massachusetts judge this week denied a motion by Brandeis University to dismiss a lawsuit brought by three overseers of the school’s Rose Art Museum who are seeking to stop Brandeis from closing the museum and selling its works. ” (From the New York TImes)

    • Giles Warrack Says:

      well this one you can just figure out if you work backwards:

      4). Brandeis wants to close the museum and sell the contents
      3). Three people want to stop Brandeis from doing this
      2). Brandeis wants to stop the three from stopping them
      1). The judge wants to stop Brandeis from stopping the three from stopping them

      Even when you look at it without negatives it’s still a bit complicated!

  4. Giles Warrack Says:

    One should clearly stop at the double negative, which can have a certain literary power. A classic example is Evelyn Waugh’s description of Peter Rodd who liked to lecture anyone on any conceivable subject: “He was seldom disinclined to be instructive”
    Rodd, who was married to Nancy Mitford, is generally believed to be the original of Basil Seal, who certainly shares that disinclination.

  5. Kenny Easwaran Says:

    BrettW – I’ve heard that this story is actually true, except that it was philosophers, not linguists. The one speaking was supposedly John Austin, and the one answering was Sidney Morgenbesser, who was a philosopher famous for being quick-witted and very helpful to the research of colleagues, but never publishing anything himself.

    You can also do a google search for “overnegation” to find lots of examples of this. Apparently the classic example that linguists use is “No head injury is too trivial to ignore.”

  6. Vishal Lama Says:

    I am big fan of Fowler (for giving us his inimitable Modern English Usage)!

    • Giles Warrack Says:

      I too admire this excellent book. My edition is the one revised by Gowers’s great-grandfather, whose “The Complete Plain Words” is another classic (in fact I originally wrote Gowers’ then changed it to Gowers’s after checking p.237).

  7. JoeK Says:

    I’m not sure a double negative always forms a positive. Here in America we invented something like “I can’t take it no more,” which is the mathematical equivalence of (-1)^2=-2.

  8. Matt Heath Says:

    I look forward to their mathematics section when they get round to it, which so far they haven’t:

    There is some maths on Conservapedia. Actually crankery about maths was a small part of why it started. Andy Schlafly (the owner of the site) thought Wikipedia was biased against elementary proof techniques and towards evil liberal decptions like imaginary numbers. Rational Wiki has a good account ofConservapedian mathematics

    • gowers Says:

      Extraordinary — the reality is weirder than anything I could have imagined.

    • Giles Warrack Says:

      It gets wierder. Andrew Schlafly has a BS from Princeton in Electrical Engineering, and a Harvard Law JD. Of course he’s the son of the well known wingnut Phyllis Schlafly, so I suppose he’s a classic case of “nature” triumphing over “nurture”.

    • Giles Warrack Says:

      or maybe nurture triumphing over nurture

    • Deane Says:

      Andy Schlafly’s brother, Roger, got a Ph.D in mathematics from Berkeley. His advisor was Singer. Around the same time, Dan Friedan (son of Betty Friedan) was also a student of Singer. There was a rumor back then that they had to arrange for these two to graduate separately to avoid having the mothers meet.

      Roger actually did some pretty good mathematics, before he decided to turn his attention to other matters.

  9. John Armstrong Says:

    @JoeK: Only if you interpret using more than one as “multiplication”. In many languages and dialects it’s “additive”. Your example, common in many American English Vernaculars, is analogous to (-1)+(-1)=(-2), not (-1)(-1)=(-2).

    And other languages actually require multiple negative markers for a single negation. Why the French do this? Je ne sais pas.

  10. Mark Bennet Says:

    There are occasional hidden double negatives in natural language – a politician was once reported in The Times as having filled a missing gap in a bridge, for example.

    (And this set me thinking about such things as the analysis of peg solitaire, where it is sometimes useful to think of jumping a virtual peg as a solving strategy, and sorting out the order of things later so all the jumps work according to the rules.)

    I would suggest using ‘double negative’ for the kind which multiply, and ’emphatic negative’ for the kind which add. It should sound weird to use ‘double’ to denote a multiplicative property …

    There are of course constructions where the doubling of a positive reduces the force of the expression, but this is essentially a rhetorical feature of language.

  11. Mark Dominus Says:

    “Rudiments of Ramsey Theory” by Ronald Graham contains the sentence “We will occasionally use this arrow notation unless there is danger of no

  12. Gil Kalai Says:

    Rota’s introduction for Stanley’s “Enumerative Combinatorics I” contains another wonderful example of a triple negation going wild. (But I could not fine the precise sentence on the Internet.)

    • Gil Says:

      The quote is: “The reader will never be at a loss for an illustrative example, or for a proof that fails to meet G.H. Hardy’s criterion of pleasant surprise.”

  13. Rodney Topor Says:

    This is not a triple negative, but it’s in the same spirit. I once heard a recently appointed CEO say: When I was appointed, this company was facing bancruptcy, but in the last year I’ve turned it around 360 degrees.

  14. Giles Warrack Says:

    I’ve just thought of another triple negative, an old, purportedly Southern, phrase:

    “It don’t make no nevermind” (it doesn’t make any difference).

    I’ve heard that John Tukey once used this phrase when talking about weighted averages, indicating that the choice of weights often makes little difference. At the other end of the intellectual scale Oprah Winfrey has been known to say this, or something similar to it.

  15. BK Drinkwater Says:

    If I recall rightly my spotty rhetoric education, litotes is the name given to the double negative when used to indicate a positive (“not bad” to mean “good”). A more exotic figure of speech, and one not modelled so easily with arithmetic, is litotes/meiosis, where the effect isn’t affirmation, but understatement: 0<(-1)(-1)<1.

    From Larkin's "Talking In Bed":

    It becomes still more difficult to find
    Words at once true and kind
    Or not untrue and not unkind.

    • gowers Says:

      I think the last phenomenon can be modelled reasonably simply, even if not purely arithmetically, if one allows three values, 1, -1 and 0. For example, if the concept under discussion is kindness, then a kind act gets a score of 1, an unkind act gets a score of -1 and a neutral act, neither kind nor unkind, gets 0. Then “not unkind” means “either 0 or 1” which is strictly weaker than “kind”.

      One can then try to puzzle out the meaning of a sentence such as “It is not completely out of the question that he was not unkind.” That one seems to mean that it is possible that he was either kind or neutral, though still quite likely that he was in fact unkind.

      There are other concepts that can be modelled using quantification. For example, philosophers model “It is possible that X” and “It is necessary that X” by “There exists a possible world such that X” and “For every possible world, X”. Since \neg\forall is the same as \exists \neg rather than \forall\neg, we get a similar understatement phenomenon: for example, “You are not definitely incorrect” is weaker than “You are definitely correct”. Other examples that can be analysed similarly use words like “may” and “must” (which, if you wanted to, you could analyse in terms of “morally permissible outcomes” or something like that). For instance, “You are not obliged to keep silent” is weaker than “You are obliged to speak.”

    • BK Drinkwater Says:

      Modal logic for the win. You just became a hero of mine.

  16. Nick Radcliffe Says:

    I remember being troubled by a remark I once heard Boris Johnson (now Mayor of London) make, but foolishly failed to note it down. After a little googling, I suspect it was

    “I could not fail to disagree with you less”

    (which won an Foot-in-Mouth award from the Plain English campaign, with whom I don’t always agree! )

    I don’t know about others, but I find that an extremely hard remark to interpret correctly without explicitly deconstructing it.

    I would do this:

    “I could not agree with you”
    “I disagree with you”.

    “I could not agree with you less”
    (perhaps surprisingly) the same thing,
    “I do not agree with you at all”, i.e. I disagree with you completely.
    (So adding less to the end of the sentence, perhaps surprisingly, does
    not negate it at all, but in fact slightly strengthens it in this case.)

    “I could not disagree with you less”
    (the reverse) “I agree with you completely”.
    (If I could not disagree with you less, my disagreement with you
    is non-existent)

    “I could not fail to disagree with you”
    “I disagree with you”.

    So we have two sentences that are nearly the same as the sentence we are
    trying to interpret (“I could not fail to disagree with you less”).

    These are:

    A. “I could not fail to disagree with you” (meaning “I disagree with you”)


    B. “I could not disagree with you less” meaning “I agree with you completely”.

    Inserting “fail to” reverses the meaning of B, so this suggests
    it means “I disagree with you completely”.

    Adding “less” to the end of “I could not agree with you” did not reverse
    the meaning, suggesting that if we add “less” to the end of the first,
    we get the same meaning, i.e. “I disagree with you”.

    So whichever way we approach it, Boris appears to have been saying
    “I disagree with you”.

    I think the difficulty with the sentence is almost entirely that last word,
    “less”, which suggests (to me, anyway) a negative, but isn’t; so this is
    a triple negative masquerading as a quadruple, making it particularly hard
    to interpret.

    • gowers Says:

      I disagree with your analysis. I think what Boris Johnson said, when properly analysed, turns out to be nonsense. Here’s why.

      “I could not fail to disagree with you less”

      surely means the same as

      “The only thing I can do is to disagree with you less”

      Less than what? Well, in a sentence like, “I couldn’t agree more” the “more” is short for “more than I do now”. In other words, I agree so much that I have reached the maximum level of agreement. If we expand Johnson’s sentence, we therefore obtain

      “The only thing I can do is to disagree with you less than I do now.”

      And that is nonsense (or tautologically false if you prefer).

      Interestingly, in the light of a comment above, this points up sharply the difference between “agree” and “fail to disagree” in this particular context, since “I could not agree with you less” is not nonsense at all. You can just about rescue Johnson if you bracket his sentence as follows:

      “I could not {fail to disagree with you} less.”

      That is,

      “The amount by which I am failing to disagree with you is as low as it could possibly be.”

      But I think that “I could not fail to {disagree with you less}.” is the more natural way of bracketing the sentence.

    • pietrobon Says:

      Alice: I’ve had nothing yet, so I can’t take more.
      The Hatter: You mean you can’t take less; it’s very easy to take more than nothing.

  17. Nick Radcliffe Says:

    You make a good point; I think I disagree with my analysis too.

  18. John Armstrong Says:

    @Deane: From all I can tell, that was Dan Freed who was a student of Singer, not Dan Friedan. Yes, both Friedan and Schlafly finished their Ph.D.s at Berkeley in 1980, but I can find no evidence that Friedan was a student of Singer.

    • Anonymous Says:

      you mean you can’t find no evidence that he wasn’t a student of Singer

    • Giles Warrack Says:

      According to the Math Genealogy Project Roger Shlafly did indeed get a PhD at Cal in 1980 (and Singer was his advisor), and so did Freed. Daniel Friedan also got a PhD from Cal in the same year, but probably in Physics as he is now a professor of physics at Rutgers

    • Deane Says:

      I don’t recall how I first heard of Dan Friedan, but I suspect it was a lecture by Singer. I believe that I also heard talks by Friedan and/or his collaborator Shenker. It was quite memorable hearing that Singer had supervised theses in physics.

      Anyway, Friedan actually has a scanned copy of his thesis available on his home page:

      and if you look at the bottom of the last page of the abstract, you will see Singer’s signature.

      Dan Freed is also a student of Singer but got his Ph.D. 5 years after Friedan.

    • Giles Warrack Says:

      Well that’s interesting (Deane’s comment), so maybe someone did have to stop Betty and Phyllis duking it out at Cal’s 1980 graduation ceremony!

  19. SK Says:

    Best triple negative:

    By innocence I swear, and by my youth
    I have one heart, one bosom and one truth,
    And that no woman has; nor never none
    Shall mistress be of it, save I alone.

    Viola, ‘Twelfth Night’, III:i, ll.157ff

  20. theoremoftheweek Says:

    This reminds me of the question on the first Cambridge Numbers & Sets examples sheet (for the first years) that asks students to negate two sentences — they often seem to find it pretty hard, even without triple negatives!


  21. gowers Says:

    Incidentally, I’m quite proud of adding two negatives to a sentence that was already doing very well: “But why was Dawkins not offended by the suggestion that something should be preventing him from saying that Muslim extremists aren’t right?” In the moral sense, that gives a quintuple negative, and after one or two attempts I can read it and feel the sense of it directly.

    In fact, that could be a challenge. It’s easy to come up with sentences with arbitrarily many negatives, but how many negatives can you put into an easily comprehensible sentence? That is, how many can you put in in such a way that the reader just feels the meaning of the sentence rather than working it out by calculating whether the number of negatives is odd or even?

    • David Franklin Says:

      I’m writing up my diary from my summer trip to Europe, and remembering a particular incident involving a friend and a very drunk girl in a bar, I unwittingly wrote a sentence which reminded me of this blog. It’s a quintuple negative but I think it’s clear and relatively concise:

      “To be fair to Nick, it’s not unreasonable to decline interest in a girl who can’t stand up without outside help”.

  22. Ian Logan Says:

    @ Giles Warrack: You say: It gets wierder. Andrew Schlafly has a BS from Princeton in Electrical Engineering, and a Harvard Law JD. Of course he’s the son of the well known wingnut Phyllis Schlafly, so I suppose he’s a classic case of “nature” triumphing over “nurture”.

    I think you’ll find that that is an example of the genetic fallacy!

  23. gowers Says:

    I stumbled on a correct, but not very easy to understand, triple negative in Anna Karenina last night:

    “Perhaps you did not wish to see me,” said Koznyshev, “but can I not be of some use to you?”

    “There is no one whom it would be less unpleasant for me to meet than yourself,” returned Vronsky. “Excuse me. There is nothing that is pleasant in life for me.”

    The context makes it clear that Vronsky really does mean “less unpleasant” and not “less pleasant”. In the second part of what he says, he is apologizing for not saying “more pleasant” and then explaining why he hasn’t done so.

  24. Sune Kristian Jakobsen Says:

    I just heard in the radio that “we are trying to prevent the prisoners from not escaping.”

  25. Seva Says:

    There is an absolutely marvelous example of a triple negation — though,
    perhaps, one needs to be grown up under a totalitarian regime to fully
    appreciate it. (Well, studying Orwell may serve as a substitute to some
    extent.) It is a pseudo-communist slogan, or rather a parody of a
    communist slogan, which circulated as a joke among critically-thinking
    people in the USSR and (translated into English) sounds as
    The irony is, with its typical vocabulary and grammar, this sounds at
    first a perfectly legal communist slogan, while the actual meaning is, in
    fact, opposite to what one expects from a slogan of this sort.

  26. Mark Hogarth Says:

    ‘Cheap at half the price’. Surely it should be: ‘Cheap at twice the price’.

  27. Giles Warrack Says:

    My stepdaughter confirmed that in the original Russian the number of negatives used by Vronski is just the same. She also came up with a quote from Georgette Heyer with so many negatives it is really rather hard to keep up:

    “I’m not one to condone a sin, Miss Venetia, but nor I’m not one to deny anyone their due neither…”

  28. Takis Konstantopoulos Says:

    The conservapedia article on Probability starts as follows [emphasis is mine]:

    The probability of an event is a number between 0 (representing impossibility) and 1 (representing certainty), and may be expressed as a simple fraction, decimal fraction, or percentage.

    Here is an equally funny definition of Random Variable, again from conservapedia:

    A random variable is a function that assigns a unique numerical value to every possible event having an outcome dependent on chance.

    May I sugest that conservapedia is … garbagepedia?

  29. Bill Says:

    I have two things to thank you for Gowers. The first: I found your weblog in a Google search for “well defined function”. The text for my upcoming grad school course on measure theory makes a casual reference to this and I decided to do some digging to finally clear up the linguistic confusion. Your article, “Why aren’t all functions well-defined” is a great remedy for the confusion I have encountered over the years in language used in math text books and by instructors. It was validating to finally discover a professional mathematician who admits and explains the screwed up language that is so often used. The second grattitude: after reading the above article, I scanned down and found this one commenting on Conservapedia. I am a conservative and didn’t know Conservapedia existed. It is now in my favorites list and I will tell others about it also. I look forward to more interesting articles from you on math and language!

  30. gowers Says:

    Over on another post, I mentioned The Lonely Planet Guide to Egypt saying that the pyramids “never fail to disappoint”.

    I’ve also just spotted a quasi-example on the BBC website. Lady Gaga (whoever that is) has just cancelled a concert, and said (on Twitter, apparently) “I can’t apologize enough for how sorry I am.” I haven’t quite got my head round this one, but it seems to me that she shouldn’t apologize for being sorry …

  31. gowers Says:

    Here’s a correct triple negative, but I include it because it’s amusingly hard to work out what it is saying: if you are gay, is this good news or bad news? It comes from the BBC website. (The full article is here.)

    The government has suffered a House of Lords defeat over a move churches said would prevent them denying jobs to gay people and transsexuals.

  32. gowers Says:

    Another example: I cannot deny that joining a club like Barcelona was not an attractive move for me. That was Cesc Fabregas in August, talking about his decision to stay at Arsenal.

  33. Ryan O Says:

    More from the world of Arsenal; Arsene Wegner, on whether Jack Wilshere was ready to play for England:

    “Is he ready to start for England against France next month? If you asked me the reverse question, is he not ready to start for England, then it would be difficult to not say no.”

    • gowers Says:

      A great example. By my calculations, Wenger is saying that Wilshere was ready, at least if the answer no to the question “Is it the case that not P” is taken to be asserting P. But that is debatable in this case, so I’m left not really being able to make head or tail of what he said (or should that be not really failing to be unable not to make head or tail of what he didn’t say?).

    • Alec Edgington Says:

      I think an extra negative has crept into the quotation. What Wenger actually said was: “If you asked me the reverse question — do you think he is not ready to play for England? — it would be difficult to say no.” Not that the meaning is very much clearer.

  34. Ryan O Says:

    Here’s the Reuters link with the original quotation —

  35. gowers Says:

    I think I’ve found a sentence that beats all records for negatives. Probably the parity is correct, since it’s by Proust (in the Scott Montcrieff translation). It comes from Swann in Love. Of course, if your sentences are as long as Proust’s, packing in the negatives is easier.

    The fact was that this idea no longer found, as an obstacle in its course, the desire to contrive without further delay to resist its coming, which had ceased to have any place in Swann’s mind since, having proved to himself — or so, at least, he believed — that he was so easily capable of resisting it, he no longer saw any inconvenience in postponing a plan of separation which he was now certain of being able to put into operation whenever he would.

    After a few readings, I think I do now understand the sentence …

  36. gowers Says:

    A little gem from front page of today’s Guardian website (18th December 2010): “Increased tuition fees are likely to result in more students claiming compensation when courses are not substandard.”

  37. Mark Hogarth Says:

    An advert by Primark claims ‘Always up to 60% off major brands’. In other words ‘Never sold below 40% of the original price’. The claim is entirely negative. Better to say nothing.

  38. obryant Says:

    Fresh meat: Today I saw US congressman Paul Ryan quoted as saying “What I do know is I can’t look my kids and my constituents in the eyes with my conscience being clear and not know that I didn’t do everything I could to try and fix this problem before it got out of control.”

    The quote is from this article

  39. jon Says:

    Another like-minded one from today:

    “They think, that we think that the unthinkable cannot be thought. But they better think again,” the first official said.

    From an article on the probability of a Greek default here

  40. gowers Says:

    From the BBC website today — not incorrect but quite tough to get your head round: “BT and TalkTalk have lost an appeal against government plans to curb the spread of illegal file-sharing.”

  41. gowers Says:

    Today’s BBC website refers to an article with the phrase, “False rape retraction appeal lost.” The first paragraph of the article in question reads, “A Powys woman jailed for falsely retracting rape allegations against her husband has lost her Court of Appeal bid to overturn her conviction for perverting the course of justice.” Again, the parity is correct, but non-trivially so.

  42. James Says:

    YOU DONT UNDERSTAND that atheists MUST deny the obvious because they know where positive answers on these questions lead.
    Obviously Dawkins has already been destroyed by debaters on this and now knows to proclaim Hitler wasnt wrong.
    I’ll give him least he now knows where atheism leads–I would say many atheists dont understand the ramification of their philosophy.

    Its the same as the atheist cosmologists. They must accept these zero odds probabilities even in the face of their stupidity. They must say we have no freewill–only random particles choosing our opinions for us which render their opinions useless. They must that Love and beauty are actually not real. That rape is not wrong. They must say something came from nothing uncaused. They actually have to deny they are even real people.

    Many atheists dont realize they Must believe the absurdities above if they are to maintain naturalism. Atheists who have been decimated in debates in the past have wisely realized the questions and answers that doom them–and out pops lunacy like Hitler wasnt wrong.
    Look, obviously there is some deep psychological problems with these people. All they have to do is say they dont know if there is a God–but they’re too arrogant, There is something much more sinister going on these peoples minds

    • gubulgaria Says:

      Is this so mulitply off-topic that it somehow arrives back on-topic?

      Does double irrelevance make you relevant?

  43. gowers Says:

    After the Canadian Grand Prix today, which was won by Lewis Hamilton (from the BBC website):

    Hamilton said: “What a great feeling this is [to win here] where I won my first grand prix.

    “I knew this was going to be a tough, tough race but I loved every minute of it. I never had a doubt in my mind that there wasn’t a possibility to win.

  44. gowers Says:

    From an article in the Guardian (14th September 2012) about sex and disgust:

    Even those in the “non-aroused” groups might actually be turned on by watching exciting sports or might be train fetishists (yes, yes, they do exist and you can go to a train fetish cafe in, not unsurprisingly, Japan).

  45. Is Richard Dawkins a good scientist? - Page 126 - Religious Education Forum Says:

    […] […]

  46. Gil Kalai Says:

    The late philosopher Edna Ullmann-Margalit was fond of collecting examples of triple and quadraple negations: from her collection (translated from Hebrew) “A document educating soldiers not to agree to a demand to violate orders” “Parliament rejected a law proposal to avoid disqualification of conversions.”

  47. Gil Kalai Says:

    Here is a good one discovered in a newspaper by Yuval Peres (thanks also to Eyal Lubetzky)

    “Appeals court rejects Apple bid to overturn sales-ban denial”

    • gowers Says:

      Wow that’s quite something. I cannot understand it except by counting that there are four negative words. Actually, even that doesn’t work. I have to transform the sentence gradually. So the first step is to replace “to overturn sales-ban denial” by “for sales-ban to be allowed”, and then I can get to “Appeals court insists, despite Apple’s bid, that sales should be allowed.” But I can’t make the words mean that when I read them.

    • Gil Kalai Says:

      I found it over the internet
      and the detailed description is not much better:

      Jan 31 (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court has denied Apple Inc’s request to reconsider an earlier ruling refusing to impose a sales ban on Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus smartphone.

      The ruling on Thursday came from the Federal U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington.

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