Saturday, February 10, 2024

Not Bad

"Two wrongs don't make a right," directly contradicts "An eye for an eye", which notion of equal justice predates Exodus, and is thought to come from the ancient Mesopotamian Hammurabi's Code of justice.

On the other hand, two negatives, sometimes make a positive... and sometimes they are just emphatically, doubly negative, as in "I can't get no" which is followed by a consummation devoutly to be wish'd, be it peace, respect, sex, relief.

Take "not bad". It is a grudging way of saying "good". "Not terrible", "not useless", "not without merit", "not wrong", "not incompatible" etc. also do the same thing. The figure of speech is Litotes. Sometimes described as verbal irony, litotes is when an affirmative is conveyed through the use of two negatives.

"It is not that I don't want to do it..." is a cautious preamble to an excuse. In other words, I would perhaps like to do something, but I cannot or won't follow through. "It's not unusual" is usually followed by a "but" clause. It's not unusual to see a cow, but it is unusual to be attacked by one.

"You can't say that I didn't warn you," is a gentler way of saying, "I told you so!"

If a person is "not unknown" to the authorities, it probably means that that person has a history as a troublemaker, at the very least.

"Not" does not have to be the first negative in the sentence. It could be "No", as in "no dearth", "no shortage", "no paucity". 
"Never" does the job, as in "Never underestimate", "never forget".
One could start with "failure".
Consider self driving vehicles. If the whiz-bang car failed to avoid the pedestrian, (fail/avoid), that would mean that the car hit the pedestrian.
Use of the double negative is either a sophisticated literary device, or it is the opposite. One has to have ones wits about one, or one can get lost in the negatives. It is one thing to decry a failure to do something (which is only singly negative), quite another to lambast some folks for their failure not to toe the line.

Possibly during Lent, I might fail to abstain from chocolate.
No doubt, at some point during the Football game, an overeager defensive lineman will fail to refrain from stepping over the line of scrimmage and getting offside.
Here is a good explanation of the use of litotes, and also an exhaustive list of links to other literary devices.

All the best,

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