Evil English Trips Trump

Dear oh dear. The English Language has been a naughty boy, letting down the US president again this week. 

Go to the back of the class, you complicated language you, and see me at the end of the lesson. 

Apparently, at the genuinely historic Helsinki meeting with Vladimir Putin it wasn’t a bizarre show of support for Putin and ‘treacherous’ rejection of Trump’s own dedicated intelligence agencies on show after all. Oh no, not at all.

It was all apparently just a simple matter of confusing the word ‘wouldn’t’ with the all-too-similar word ‘would’. In explanation, Trump has said: "In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't'.” Instead of saying "I don't see any reason why it would be Russia," he said the sentence should have been: "I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia." 

So easily done.

Such a tiny thing to get wrong… in front of the world’s cameras… and then not correct yourself when you realised you’d got quite possibly the most important sentence of 2018 wrong.

Hmm. Not inconclusive, perhaps you could say.

The crime? 

Using a double-negative, a “grammatical construction occurring when two forms of negation are used in the same sentence” (source: Wikipedia) – or, more simply put, when you confuse people by saying ‘not’ twice in one sentence.

Here are two great examples, thanks to The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd: 

“I can't get no satisfaction", and "we don't need no education". The problem with them is that double negatives cause confusion, whatever the intention. Did Mick Jagger have trouble getting ‘no’ satisfaction? Doubt it. Did the kids in The Wall want no education? Yes – they wanted to get out of the classroom!

So, it’s all about how clear you want to be when you communicate. Do you want to be clear, and easily understood, or not? And, does the US president have to speak clearly, or are double-negatives allowed?

If you’re being charitable, it’s worth remembering that it’s not the first time that pesky old English has knotted up the leader of the free world. Does anyone remember the ‘covfefe’ tweeting incident?

And, of course, Donald Trump isn’t the first US president to have a bit of a struggle with our language. George W. Bush was the king of linguistic clarity, famous for classic quotes that include “The vast majority of our imports come from outside the country", “It isn't pollution that's harming the environment; it's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it", and the all-time great double-negative cock-up: "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we," (and you can spend happy times with more of his superb quotes HERE:)

But whereas we all knew that Dubya’s ability to speak English was prone to going on vacation at crucial moments, the current president seems all-too able to be clear when he wants to be. And we all know that The Don is not a fan of planning or preparation: not a great quality in someone whose every word is scrutinised world-wide.

Speechwriters must have a terrible time of it with him. It is extremely unlikely that a speechwriter good enough to work at the White House would knowingly allow a double-negative into critical global messages like the one at the podium in Helsinki.

As for double-negatives, let’s just say that nobody with no sense isn’t using them. They are just too confusing.

I’ll finish up by asking you to imagine if other presidents had got their negatives mixed up:

Bill Clinton: “I didn’t not have sex with that woman.”

JFK: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can’t do for your country.”

Obama: “Yes we can’t.” 

(Not quite a double negative, that one, but you know what I mean.)

Shoulda, woulda, coulda, Don.

Dear oh dear.

Now, where’s my cane?

If you'd like some help in getting your message clear, please do contact George at The Clarity Business at george@theclaritybusiness.co.nz


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