Pet Peeve: Double Negatives

I am quite a fan of language. I think that’s basically the number one requirement for being a writer. I’d also like to think that I’m a good fan, and not one of those ones that requires a restraining order. Maybe not the number one fan (I don’t always know where to put a comma), but certainly one that attends all of language’s events. This metaphor went on too long, I’m sorry.


What I mean to say is, I love words. I love what words can make when you put them together. I love the feelings they procure and I love how they roll off the tongue (or how I imagine them to when I’m not reading out loud, which is pretty much all the time). Words are our most powerful tool besides nonverbal communication, and people are always screwing them up.

It’s not that I don’t like double negatives (see what I did there?) I just… Okay, I lied. I don’t like them. For the most part, I find double negatives extremely annoying. When I hear a double negative in daily conversation, I wince. When someone says, “I ain’t got nothin’ going on today,” I immediately have to resist the urge to punch both of us in the face. Them for talking like that, and me for punching them in the face (because only assholes use violence to solve their problems). Or if someone is ragging on somebody else (tsk, tsk) and says something like, “They don’t know nothin’!” I almost have to jam sharpened lead pencils into my ears. Or force marbles into his/her mouth and make him/her learn proper grammar like Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. Or both. Yeah, both. Let’s just be safe.

I get the urge to yell, “THAT MEANS THEY KNOW SOMETHING, GAWD” and I’m pretty sure I’ve popped a hernia or two by controlling the impulse to correct. No one likes the jerk who corrects everyone else, and it’s my life goal to not be considered a jerk. I have high ambitions, I know.

Songwriters are like the lobbyists in the double negative Congress, stuffing cash in their pockets to promote the cause. They dine at fancy restaurants and eat their fancy french fries while singing, “Baby, baby, baby, no” one, “baby, baby, baby, NOOO” two,  “Baby, baby, baby noooo,” three, “I thought you’d always be mine.” So wait. Did hungry Justin Bieber think that the french fries would always be his? Or that they wouldn’t? I am so confused. Also, screw that guy.

Justin Bieber at the 2010 White House Easter E...
I wish Justin Bieber was a double negative so he'd cancel himself out... ZING.

Double negatives are the epidemic of the music industry (besides the lack of quality music these days). Every songwriter is guilty of using them here and there. I forgive you, kind of. But I can’t forgive the really popular songs that use them. For instance, “Lonely No More” by whatshisdouche in Matchbox 20 from several years ago. Is his name Rob or something? Rob Something. Let’s call him that.

Rob Something sings, “I don’t wanna be lonely no more” and “I don’t wanna be angry no more.” Okay, Rob Something (Google has alerted me that his name is Rob Thomas. Whatever). You made probably millions of dollars off of that song. And what you’re saying is, “Oh, man, gee whiz. I sure do wish I was even lonelier than I am right now. And angrier, too. Those things sound just so swell.” But also, “So when you tell me that you love me, know for sure.” The whole song is about how he really wants this girl. Then why is he telling her he wants to be lonelier and angrier? That’s kind of misleading. Ugh. Men. Always playing mind games.

...Something to Be
Dear Whitney, I'm not not sorry I used so many double negatives. Love, Rob

The only instance that I find double negatives acceptable happens with children. Say a little boy and little girl (or two little kids of the same gender, it’s 2012 after all) are playing on the swings.

One, let’s call him Boba Fett, turns to Two, let’s call her Marshmallow and says, “Hey, Marshmallow, do you like me? Like, like like me?”

Marshmallow, a sweet girl of 7 with long hair in braided pig-tails, blushes bright red. She turns to Boba Fett and says, “Boba Fett, I don’t not not not not not not not not not not like you,” and proceeds to giggle uncontrollably.

I didn’t count those to see if they added up to her admitting she liked him. Because as we all know, when you’re a child and you say something like that, you’re clearly infatuated with pre-lust hormones and innocent little butterflies. Just kiss Marshmallow already, Boba Fett. Jesus.

9 thoughts on “Pet Peeve: Double Negatives

  1. I’d like to request an exemption for Louis Prima and the song “Just A Gigolo” and the line “I ain’t got nobody, and nobody cares for me” on the grounds that it’s a really great old song.

    The exemption would not extend to David Lee Roth, though.

  2. I really enjoyed your story, even though I was like totally throttled by it. See, I apparently was raised by a pack of wild dogs, IN THE DEEP SOUTH, and they ain’t taught me nothin about them there double negatives….or nothin else (Is that a triple negative?)
    If an exception can be granted for a song, it should be granted to inept writers from the south who require a flea collar.
    BTW, “Just A Gigalo” is a great song, but it was probably the birthplace of the sad lyrical syndrome we have fallen into.
    Great stuff Whit!

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