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“We don't need no education”

You don't need no memory.

Just don't know what it means.

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marked as duplicate by kiamlaluno, MrHen, Marthaª, RegDwigнt Apr 13 '11 at 14:27

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That is called double negative. –  kiamlaluno Apr 13 '11 at 12:02
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Another classic double negative: "Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges!" youtube.com/watch?v=VqomZQMZQCQ –  Neil Apr 13 '11 at 12:31
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2 Answers 2

In standard English, when you turn a sentence like "I have some memory" into a question or a negative statement, you normally replace "some" by the special word "any": "I haven't any memory"/ "Have you any memory?".

Linguists call this "any" a "negative polarity" word, because it is particularly associated with negative sentences (and also questions): you can't use it in affirmative sentences, at least not with that meaning.

Many dialects of English replace this particular negative polarity word "any" with a different one "no". This form is generally strongly deprecated by authorities and pedants, and they frequently adduce a pseudo-logical argument about double negatives.

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+1 - A Chinese listener would understand: I have some money. –  Alain Pannetier Φ Apr 13 '11 at 14:33
    
To a native English speaker, there's rarely any ambiguity: there is a difference in intonation between "no" used in a double negative (the negativity 'added') and "no" used to 'multiply' the negativity (e.g. "I don't want NO money, but I don't need that much"). –  Neil Coffey Apr 13 '11 at 17:14
    
@Neil: thanks. I didn't understand what Alain was saying, but I think I do now. Your point is absolutely correct, and the proper counter to people who prate about double negatives. –  Colin Fine Apr 14 '11 at 11:18
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It's very informal, possibly even slang (?) and means "You don't need (any) memory".

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so, you don't need memory = you don't need no memory ? ... –  lovespring Apr 13 '11 at 11:38
    
Yes, indeed! That's correct. –  masarah Apr 13 '11 at 11:42
    
I think it's very definitely informal slang. I can't think of an utterance with this type of double negative that would be considered "correct". It is very common, by which I mean both that you hear it quite frequently, and that the speaker is likely to be poorly-educated (or wants to sound as if he is). –  FumbleFingers Apr 13 '11 at 12:44
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Although the example given by the OP is somewhat crude, double negation is termed an "informal intensifier" and extremely common in nearly all registers of English. –  The Raven Apr 13 '11 at 13:16
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Everyone should pause for a second and ask themselves, what is "any" doing in Masarah's example? It's playing pretty much the same role as "no" does in OP's example. It just so happens that "standard" English co-opted "any" to fill that role, and "nonstandard" English co-opted "no". It could have easily been the other way round. –  RegDwigнt Apr 13 '11 at 14:26
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