The folks over at Language Log have had a number of posts about the difficulty of fitting negations into sentences so that they make sense (see Why are negations so easy to fail to miss? and the list at the bottom of this post), and I’ve just run across a splendid specimen. In today’s Berkshire Eagle, there’s a column by Leonard Quart called “Brooklyn Changing” that compares today’s Brooklyn to the sedater borough described lovingly by James Agee in a 1939 essay; about two thirds of the way through, a section on the neighborhood known as Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) concludes:
But the painter who said to me that he liked the fact that Dumbo is relatively undeveloped also knows that it will soon go the way of SoHo.
Dumbo will ultimately become so dominated by boutiques and condos that young painters like himself will no longer be unable to afford to live there.
The italics are in the original, giving a nice highlight to the negation that breaks the sentence’s back. (It’s possible, of course, that Quant is deliberately playing with the cliche and intended the sentence to read as it does, but in that case I have no idea what he’s trying to say.)
Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear…
There’s another, more attractively laid out, version of the poem here, along with an introduction giving the history of the poem and its Dutch author, who wrote it as an appendix to a 1920 book on learning to pronunce English correctly and kept adding to it over the years. I strongly disagree, however, with the footnote insisting that the word does in line 193 (“Shoes, goes, does. Now first say: finger“) is the plural of doe; if that were the case, it would duplicate the vowel sound of the preceding word goes and add nothing to the line. It has to be the third singular present of the verb do, providing yet another variant (the central vowel ʌ).