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31 October, 2013

DOUBLE NEGATIVES: ONLY IN MIDDLE-OF-THE-ROAD CANADA YOU SAY!

A double negative is the use of two negatives in a sentence which cancel each other out and create a positive. In today's world double negatives are used a lot, but are considered bad grammar. How many times have you heard a child say "I didn't do nothing." If they didn't do nothing, then they did something. That is a typical double negative. But, true to form, Canadians give the double negative a different twist.
Have you ever noticed that we Canadians are in the habit of using negatives to express positive feelings and aspirations?  Increasingly, when we look at our situations, we start from a negative perspective.

Just think about it.  Ask someone "How are you today?" and the most frequent Canadian reply will be "Not too bad."  Or ask them how they are feeling and the answer is quite likely to be "Could be worse."  What is there about us that we cannot express ourselves more positively and with conviction, short of telling the truth on occasion about how lousy we might really be feeling.

The political visionary Preston Manning, founder of the now decommissioned Reform and Conservative Alliance parties, once suggested that Canadians are typically a bunch of fence sitters taking the middle ground approach because they are leery of committing themselves on any question or situation, hence we are "not too bad" and we "could be worse."  Seems like we are right down the middle kind of people and old Preston may have have been on to something..

Ask a Canadian if they like something and it is not unusual to hear the answer:  "Well, I can't say I do not like it, but..."  See what I mean?  If you can't say you do not like it, then you must like it.  Here's another one where the same logic applies..."She is not unattractive."  Maybe she's somewhere between attractive and unattractive, which in truth would no doubt apply to most of us.

Just the other day, I heard this mind-boggler: "Not that I'm not thankful or anything, but..."  Wrap your mind around that one for a  few seconds.

While not a double negative, but still on the subject of irritating expressions, have you ever made a request to a service provider or asked a coworker for a favor and they reply, “No problem!”  That one always annoys me.  “No problem!” seems harmless enough – even downright cheery. Kind of like “No worries” to the Aussies or “Fuggedaboutit” to actor Al Pacino.

When someone says “no problem” to a request, however, what they really mean is that the request potentially is a problem and they are not really interested in doing this particular favor. But  they are forced to comply; hence, “no problem” nonchalantly rolls off the tongue.  Some restaurants have started training employees to eliminate this response, both with customers and each other and this is a good thing.  Nothing I hate more than a "no problem" after thanking a store check-out clerk or service provider for a handful of change after completing a substantial transaction.  I often respond with a curse "I didn't expect that there would be a problem."

Now they should start working on the word "grab".  How many times have you asked a waiter/waitress for a glass of water or a utensil and the reply is "Okay, I'll go and grab that for you!"  There is something about the action of  "grabbing" that just rubs me the wrong way.  I much prefer to picture the person simply "getting" the requested item for me.

Really glad I got all of these sloppy language issues off my chest.  It's not like it hasn't been weighing me down or anything, but it could be worse!

Now I'll get on with the rest of my day, no problem.

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