Absence of Non-Overnegation
Posted by Neal on December 4, 2007
“Whew!” my wife said. “That’s something you get used to not smelling.” It was the second day of our weekend trip to Las Vegas, and we had just walked through another pocket of cigarette smoke on the casino floor. There’s been a ban on public indoor smoking in Ohio since May, and a local ban for longer than that in the area where we live, so we’d had plenty of time to get used to not smelling cigarette smoke. To tell you the truth, it hadn’t taken very long at all.
“No kidding,” I said. “So…
…you miss not smelling it?
“Uh…?” she answered.
Wow. I learned several years ago that for my wife, miss not [verb]-ing and miss [verb]-ing mean the same thing. But I’d wondered: If the context demanded it, could she could still get the compositional (i.e. literal) reading of miss not [verb]-ing? Some people can. There’s me, of course. And in Mark Liberman’s post from 2004 (which I linked to in my last post on this topic), he found that two out of ten randomly selected examples had compositional miss-not. To Liberman’s non-overnegations, I’ll add this one, which I found in the book I’ve been reading to Doug and Adam at bedtime:
The mood in their meeting that night was subdued: no bickering, no laughter, only a general feeling of grim resolve. Now that the children finally knew some things, they all rather missed not knowing them.
(Trenton Lee Stewart, The Mysterious Benedict Society, 2007, p. 253)
In fact, it was that example that had put me on the lookout for other situations where compositional miss-not would make sense, so that I could so smoothly and naturally work it into my conversation during the weekend. Yet even in that perfect context, the smoothly and naturally worked-in compositional miss-not crashed and burned when my wife tried to parse it. When she read the draft of this very posting, the sentence still struck her as a complete non sequitur in the conversation about cigarette smoke. But if we’re talking about, say, the homemade bread her mom used to make every week, the bread that smelled so good and which she hasn’t smelled for so long, then You miss not smelling it makes perfect sense to her. And, she adds, so does You miss smelling it. To express that someone prefers a former state of affairs, in which they would not do a particular thing, to the current state of affairs in which they do do that particular thing, she just has to find another means, like the workaround I just used, or by saying something like what she actually said on the casino floor.