Posted by Jay Livingston
Negative statements are harder to evaluate than are positive statements, though the difference may be only a microsecond of thought.
1. True or False: Barack Obama is not president.When multiple negatives keep switching the sign from positive to negative and back, a reader sinks into the mud and struggles to find the meaning of the sentence.
2. True or False: Barack Obama is president.
In previous posts (here, for example) I’ve made up my own examples (“The Supreme Court today failed to overturn a lower-court ruling that denied a request to reverse . . .”).
I thought I was exaggerating. But try this.
“Bad acts should not long remain without an insufficient tax.”Three negatives – should not, without, insufficient. Four if you count bad, the negative of good. Five if you count tax as the negative of reward.
I am not making this up. It’s a variant on something from Robin Hanson’s blog, Overcoming Bias . Here is the verbatim quote
“good acts shouldn’t long remain with an insufficient subsidy. Or bad acts without an insufficient tax.”
An author shouldn’t refuse to leave unedited a sentence with so many negatives. Or do I mean the opposite?