The New York Times ran a bewildering headline on May 6, 1965:
“Albany Kills Bill to Repeal Law Against Birth Control”
… a triple (quadruple?) negative.
“As you leave the town of Franklin, Pennsylvania, you encounter a sign: END BRAKE RETARDER PROHIBITION,” notes Edward Wolpow in the May 2011 issue of Word Ways. “For those for whom this is relevant, they are, presumably, able to follow the instructions quite quickly, since it is, after all, a road sign. But I still can’t figure it.”
In a 1975 interview with Business Week, Henry Kissinger said, “I am not saying that there’s no circumstances where we would not use force” against Saudi Arabia. Is this what he meant to say?
At a New York conference of linguistic philosophers in the 1950s, Oxford professor J.L. Austin noted that while a double negative often expresses a positive — as in “not unattractive” — there is no example in English of a double positive expressing a negative.
Columbia philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser, who was in the audience, sarcastically replied, “Yeah, yeah …”