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This popped up during a conversation. My friend said (roughly):

Some vegetarians don't eat meat. Why not fish?

To me, this felt somewhat weird. Her intent was to ask, if some vegetarians refuse to eat meat, why are they okay eating fish? The part that felt weird was the "why not".

Suppose she had said instead:

Some vegetarians refuse to eat meat. Why not fish?

Then this would be equivalent to:

Some vegetarians refuse to eat meat. Why don't they refuse to eat fish?

But by saying:

Some vegetarians don't eat meat. Why not fish?

She's really saying:

Some vegetarians don't eat meat. Why don't they don't eat fish?

Which is a double negative. Am I right? Or am I completely crazy here?

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Everything else aside, vegetarians don't eat fish. –  onomatomaniak Apr 19 '13 at 18:46
1  
A little silly, but couldn't this also be read as, "Why don't fish refuse to eat meat?" –  p.s.w.g Apr 19 '13 at 19:07

1 Answer 1

It is implicitly a double negative:

Vegetarians don’t eat meat. Why not fish?

Vegetarians do not eat meat. Why not not eat fish?

It may not be the clearest phrasing, but I don’t think it hampers understanding. You can think of “to not eat” as an affirmative verb meaning to choose not to eat, or to refuse to eat. To remove the double negative, if it bothers you, you can just phrase the question in the affirmative:

Vegetarians don’t eat meat. Why (do they) eat fish?

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