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14 Maj 2004 @ 13:36
Never say 'never' (unless it happens to be what you actually mean)  

(Sound advice for any word, really.)

Recently, while traversing the labyrinth of data that is Everything2, I stumbled across something called Ugol's Law. This principle, which is apparently common wisdom among the denizens of alt.sex.bondage, states that whatever one's kink or fetish may be, there is almost certainly someone else out there who shares it. Readers familiar with Optimality Theory may recognize this idea as a variant of Richness of the Base.

What caught my attention, though, was the fact that the earliest known statement of the law, in a message posted by Harry Ugol, says exactly the opposite:

In my experience the answer to the question

> Am I the only one?

has *never* been "no".

Not once.

Yes. You are alone. It's not what Ugol meant, but it's what he said, as is perfectly clear to anyone with the time, inclination, and machete to hack through that thicket of negatives. As Language Log has asked, "Why are negations so easy to fail to miss?"

 
 
Nuværende humør: goodnegative
Nuværende musik: "Morvern Callar" soundtrack
 
 
 
-entangledbank on 14. Maj, 2004 13:46 (UTC)
That's extraordinary. Three negatives/NPI (only - never - no) and the parser emits smoke. I wonder if it's possible to get a fair sample and see how many times people get it right: is this only an occasional mistake, or do we randomly guess the end result is positive or negative, or do we typically discard the third negative?
riotgrrlsara on 14. Maj, 2004 13:56 (UTC)
the funny thing with me is that, actually, i do find negatives easy to fail to miss. i'm always getting confused with what people mean when they use a double negative construction. and all sorts of negative constructions that really mean positive things REALLY throw me. i actually had trouble understanding some of john stuart mill's writing because he uses that sort of thing a lot, and i kept thinking, "wait, is he saying this is this way, or that it isn't this way?"

though mostly this happens in writing -- when someone uses these things verbally, context tends to take over, and if it doesn't i can just ask what they meant.
Elkins: signskelkins on 16. Maj, 2004 17:29 (UTC)
Negatives can indeed be tricky, but it seems to me that mistakes like this one are even more common on fora on which people are usually tossing off responses quickly, and without editing.

I don't know if the problem is really so much the inability to parse negatives as it is the writer's changing his idea of how he wanted to construct his sentence mid-stream.

Anyway, that's usually the cause of my own descents into nonsensical internet writing.

At any rate, though, I have now spent quite a pleasant few minutes trying to imagine the kink so very bizarre that Ugol's statement would actually apply to it...
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