This Meta question is in regard to in a town where people say the opposite of what they think how would double negatives work?.

(1) This does not appear to be off-topic as a question of linguistics in a fictional world is clearly within the scope of our site as presented on the help pages.

Effects of events or world elements, including biology, technology and magic, on specific aspects of that world's societies, cultures, and environment

In this case, the effect on the language (culture) of a society that (for reasons not provided) culturally express themselves in the opposite of what they mean.

(2) This does not appear to be primarily opinion-based in that the nature of a double-negative is clearly within a definable and objective scope. He's asking the question in English... maybe we need to ask him to clearly state it, but the context of a double-negative in English seems to be intrinsic to the question. This, of course, results in a definable "right" answer.

Curiously, the answer from a linguistics perspective is that the cultural tendency to express yourself using the opposite of what you mean has no impact at all on the use of double-negatives. The context would be identical to how they are used in English: to preserve the original intent of the statement.

I'm assuming that this question was closed for no better reason than it was outside the experience and skill set of the VTCers. If I'm right, then that's a horrible reason to close a question, which is tantamount to, "I can't answer it, so it deserves to be closed."

Question: Am I right? in which case the question should be reopened. Or am I wrong?


3 Answers 3


Interpretation of double negatives is already variant with culture. Sometimes they're a positive, sometimes they're an emphasis on negative. Hence they're always a matter of opinion in a fictional work.

In some languages they are at least consistent. In England which rule applies is conveyed by the tone of voice, local slang, and social class of the speaker along with the situation in which the phrase is spoken.

Consider the following examples:

  • "I didn't do nothing"
    When spoken to a police officer or other authority it's an emphatic negative, a denial of action being taken.
  • "I wasn't doing nothing"
    Is a statement that action was being taken, again spoken defensively to an authority figure, but this time by someone being accused of inactivity rather than criminal action.

I voted to leave close on review. The description of the townsfolk is:

a town where people say the opposite of what they think

What does that mean? Its not even clear if they are purposefully lying or not. That isn't nearly enough description to make any sort of answer. That means that the person who answers has to make assumptions about the above quote, which renders the whole affair pretty opinion based.

Honestly, this is more of a logic puzzle than a real Worldbuilding question. If you have a society where no one says what they think, there will probably be many more societal issues than the interpretation of double negatives.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In most towns in most places most people sometimes say what they think, sometimes say the opposite, sometimes say what is expected for them to say whether they think it or not, and sometimes say something without thinking at all... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 19:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Don't forget the rare few who actually think before they speak, resulting in someone else saying something before they do. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 19:46
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling I'm becoming less and less of a believer in the idea that these people actually exist. $\endgroup$
    – Gryphon
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 19:47

I was the one to cast first vote, so I guess I owe you an explanation.

This question is two sentences long. What's the opposite? For many statements it is hard to figure it out. Some of them does not even have opposite. Is speaking some more specific non-truth is OK? Like if I'd say I'm a cat? And what if I don't really feel human, can I say that I'm not? For purpose of double negatives, how are these defined? What about "was not" and "wasn't"? Are they even speaking English? Why haven't their language adjusted already?

I used up way more sentences to show what we don't know than OP used to explain what we are supposed to know.

Last but not least, one town and one simple event is not "world's societies, cultures, and environment" size thing. It is just a story about one town.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ If you're going to bring up what it says in the help center What topics can I ask about here?, then don't forget what the first paragraph of that page says: A setting might not be a planet; it can be larger than a multiverse or smaller than a village. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ Yes. That's why main point of my reason was lack of details and definitions. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 15:13

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