Triple negative

J Cronin’s The Passage is surprisingly interesting and I hope to blog about it at greater length some other time.  (Short version:  it is the only thing I’ve ever read that imitates Stephen King and gets right what works about Stephen King, and this is sort of a great achievement.)  Still, though, there’s this:

It wasn’t that he didn’t like her, nor that she had failed to make her interest less than plain.

It took me about thirty seconds to figure out what this actually said, and once I figured it out, I was pretty sure it didn’t say what Cronin wanted it to say.  But how could any editor read this sentence and not flag it?

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8 thoughts on “Triple negative

  1. Have you seen any of the Language Log posts on overnegation/misnegation? They have a lot of lovely examples of this sort of thing: most recently, “I don’t see how not to believe that Republicans as a group were not working on the basis of internal polls that were just totally wrong,” which also links to many relevant older posts.

  2. Thanks for goading me into refreshing my sentence diagramming skills. Not that it helped a ton.

  3. NDE says:

    That sentence fills a much-needed gap.

  4. Rob H. says:

    Wait, I think it said what he meant to say. What do you think it says?

  5. Rob H. says:

    That should read: “… I thought it said…”. I think…

  6. Mark Meckes says:

    A slight paraphrase of the sentence: “It wasn’t that he didn’t like her, and it wasn’t that she had failed to make her interest less than plain.”

    “It wasn’t that he didn’t like her” is not the same but similar to “He liked her.”

    “It wasn’t that she had failed to” is similar to “She did”, and “make less than plain” is similar to “hide.” So the second half of the sentence means something similar to “she hid her interest.”

    So the sentence says something like “He liked her, and she hid her interest in him.” The two clauses seem to be in opposition, but the wording of the original sentence suggests that was not the intention.

  7. [...] also my complaint about Justin Cronin’s The Passage, which besides being carelessly edited — when you vomit because a vampire bit you, you are [...]

  8. [...] Nov 2012:  The Passage, by Justin [...]

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