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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2012

    Double negatives

    Recently fractured a rib during a bout of acute bronchitis induced coughing. ER doctor said this is a, "not uncommon experience."

    I have wondered about phrases such as this for a long time. But only in my current state of mind, brought on by codeine cough medicine and pain killers, has it become a priority that needs immediate attention. Also, there is the fact that I am pretty much immobile, and making lemonades out of lemons, am tending to time consuming texting tasks, previously neglected.

    Does the above apply to the rule two negatives make a positive?
    Is this something like the idiom couldn't (or could) care less?

    Do these profound questions have answers?

  2. #2
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Columbus, Ohio
    It's not an idiom. It's an adjective that can take what I call a "nuanced negative". The negative can increase or decrease the extremity of meaning. You can order that adjective in this way:

    Not common
    Not uncommon

    So your doctor meant your condition is fairly common, but uncommon enough to raise some eyebrows of those not familiar with bronchitis or the medical field. There's a number of these kinds of adjectives. I recently discussed a particular exercise with a trainer and asked if it was harmful at my age. He said, "Well, it's not unharmful." Then he explained I could prossibly get some benefit from it, but there was a decent chance it would exacerbate other problems I was experiencing. I'm sure you've heard how inflection can nuance the meaning of these adjectives even further.

    So no, not an idiom, and neither is "I couldn't care less", but "I could care less" is an idiom.

  3. #3
    Administrator Wickett's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    It gladdens the heart to know that drugs are what stirs conversation on a writing forum.

    I agree with the points John made above. Nothing about what your doctor said is a double negative. "It isn't not uncommon" is a double negative, "it's not uncommon" is mostly just another way of saying "it's common", except there is inflection factor that John also pointed out.

  4. #4
    Member K.S. Crooks's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2014
    Toronto, Canada
    Taken literally "not uncommon experience" means a common experience. However what people usually mean by this is that the event/experience is happens often enough that people know about it, but it does not occur all the time. Saying "not uncommon" is a way to state a medium level of occurrence between ALL The Time and Never.

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