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I was drawn to the phrase, “Anne Hathaway, who, for the record, I have never not liked, is extremely appealing” in the following paragraph in the review of movie, “The Intern,” of which source I forgot to take notes.

"The adages of “The Intern” are delivered in a comedy package that, for the most part, is sane, sweet, and smart, and a lot of the time, actually funny. A budding romance between Ben and the company’s in-house masseuse is fodder for two groan-inducing visual gags. But a silly set piece in which Ben enlists some of the younger goofballs of About The Fit on a housebreaking mission, replete with latter-day “Ocean’s Eleven” references, is actually a tolerable bit of rompage. And everyone in the cast, including Hathaway, who, for the record, I have never not liked, is extremely appealing."

I don’t think I’ve ever heard the expression, “I have never not liked somebody.” Does this mean “I like her” as a double negative? If so, what is the difference of nuance between them? Is this a very common turn of phrase?

By the way, isn’t rompage a typo of rampage?

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In this specific case, the phrase alludes to the fact that (for reasons that have always eluded me) it's fashionable to dislike Anne Hathaway. The critic is saying he has never jumped on that bandwagon. – Marthaª Mar 7 at 16:26
    
@Martha The choice of the rather odd formulation does indeed almost certainly 'allude to the fact that ... it's fashionable to dislike Anne Hathaway' and that the unmarked 'whom I've always liked' would not bring this out anywhere near as clearly.. The 'other answers' are inadequate in that they do not pick up on the true reason for the choice. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 7 at 16:32
    
@EdwinAshworth : if there were a period where you hadn't formed an opinion on someone, you couldn't say 'I've always liked'. – Joe Mar 7 at 17:10
    
In a different context "You've never liked my mother, have you?!" might be (defensively) met by "I've never not liked your mother!" But the above context seems a bit different. – Hot Licks Mar 7 at 19:07
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I am surprised that no one has mentioned that this is a litote, which is a reasonably common rhetorical device (to answer the second to last question asked). – TokenToucan Mar 7 at 22:44

The nuance is that like and not like is a spectrum not a binary state.

Do you like neutrality? Meh.

"Never not liked" literally means that there there was never a point at which the subject was not liked. It allows, but does not require, that the subject was liked.

If context somehow requires that the state be binary (you do or you don't, pick a side) then this expression is needlessly complicated. Sometimes that's done for emphasis. More often people assume it's binary when it isn't so.

I never met a man I didn't like.

Will Rogers

Will wasn't saying he liked people before he met them.

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Right. You see the same sort of circumlocution in, "I've never had a reason to use anything else." It stops short of saying, "this thing is the best" and instead says it's never been inadequate. – stevesliva Mar 7 at 4:53
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" It allows, but does not require, that the subject was liked." I disagree. It absolutely requires that the subject was liked. – Kevin Mar 7 at 19:36
    
@Kevin I see you've picked your side. – CandiedOrange Mar 9 at 3:50

You can like the performance of an actor in one movie, dislike their performance in another, and have no opinion on a third. This reviewer is saying that they have never disliked - or "never not liked" - Anne Hathaway's performance in a movie.

"Rompage" here is a made-up word meaning 'instance of romping'. It has the same relation to the word 'romp' as 'breakage' has to 'break'.

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In the context of the review you are citing (from RogerEbert.com), "never not liked" is just a cute way of saying "always liked." This is the sort of turn of phrase that film critics sometimes toss into movie reviews to give their pronouncements a bit of fizz (they hope). Instances of the same double-negative locution may be found in Ayul Zamir, Intern Beth (2006):

I love you—I have always loved you—I have never not loved you ☺ Yes, even when I was a disobedient child, cheating behind your back, following my heart and telling you lies: I thought of you and smiled!

and in Max Lucado, He Did This Just for You (2005):

And we have never not sinned. God has lived a sinless eternity; I'd be thrilled with a sinless hour! But I've never had one. Have you? Have you ever gone sixty minutes with only one sin? Me neither.

and in numerous other instance that you can find by running Google Books searches for "have never not," "has never not," and the like.


"Rompage" is a made-up word built on the familiar word romp, and as applied to films and film scripts means a lighthearted, enjoyable diversion (there is an intentional hint of the word rampage in the neologism rompage, but the sense of the word here is clearly very different from "going wild and threatening innocent people").

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I would disagree with the first sentence. "I have never not liked" only means "never disliked"... the quoted might have liked her, might have felt nothing towards her, might have longingly loved her... but never, ever actively disliked her. – CGCampbell Mar 7 at 14:30
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@CGCampbell: In everyday speech and in conversational writing, many people use "don't like" and/or "do not like" interchangeably with (or in place of) "dislike." But it seems to me that the phrasing "I have never not liked X" is so self-consciously stilted that it ought not be presumed to unconsciously equate "do not like" with "dislike." I acknowledge that "I have never not liked" may be a cute way of saying "I have never disliked" or it may be a cute way of saying "I have always liked." I favor the latter interpretation; you, the former—but either way the wording is quite artificial. – Sven Yargs Mar 7 at 15:32
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@CGCampbell, I agree with Sven. In the context given here, it almost surely means that Mr Ebert liked every performance he had ever seen from Anne Hathaway. – Kevin Mar 7 at 19:39

Though some may say that "I have never not liked you" is equivalent to "I have always liked you", I would argue that they give a slight difference in meaning.

"Never" usually implies a 0% probability while "Always" need not necessarily imply a 100% probability (usually just 90% of the time, in most use cases).

So saying that "I have never not liked you" conveys the meaning that of 100% of the time, I have had non-negative feelings towards you.

On the other hand, saying that "I have always liked you" seems to convey the meaning that of 90% of the time, I have had positive feelings towards you.

Not only is there a difference in "non-negative feelings" vs "positive feelings", but the latter also leaves somewhat slight ambiguity (say 10% of the time)

Just my personal thoughts :)

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I think there's no point in attempting to parse the difference between: never not liked and never not liked. It's ambiguous, but I don't think that is the point of the phrase in any case. Essentially "never not liked" and "always liked" means the same thing, the difference is one of emphasis. (Assuming that the emphasis is intentional of course, it could just be overly flowery speech).

always liked - emphasises the duration in my opinion (always) ("always loved" might emphasise the "always" and the "love" in equal measure, but that's only because love is a much stronger word than like).

never not liked - emphasises the not and by extension emphasises the feeling (the complete absence of not liking)

The reason I believe that to be the case is that "never not liked" is slightly clumsy and unnecessary, and so draws your attention to the "not" (if the author didn't wish to draw your attention to the "not" they would probably just have said "never disliked").


It might clarify to consider another example. Take the following conversation:

Person A to Person B - oh, so now you like that song?

Person B, wishing to negate the statement because they like the song but have always done so, might to choose to answer in two different ways:

B to A - I've always liked it (emphasising the duration)

or

B to A - I've never not liked it (emphasising the feeling)

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It is a kind of double negation which can mean both negative and affirmative (positive) depending on context. For example:

I ain't (don't) know nothing about it.

It means "I have absolutely no idea about it." The sentence is negative albeit written in a double negation. However,

I couldn't not say "I love you."

It means "I had to say "I love you."" The sentence is affirmative.

When a double negation is used with the modal "can" and "could", it is usually an affirmative sentence as in "I can't not think about you." which means "I always (have to) think about you" or "I can never stop thinking about you."

It depends on context, however, "I have never not liked..." is closer to the second example above. It could mean "(Even though there was some performance not up to my taste/standard,) I have always liked...".

The expression is not very broadly used, but it is a very useful tool if you want to emphasize your point.

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I don't believe that Roger Ebert meant "I have always liked..," or else he would have said so. He's trying to say that there was never a performance of hers which he DISliked, but that's not the same thing. She might have been mediocre in some films, in which case he neither liked nor disliked her. – Eli Skolas Mar 7 at 5:55
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@EliSkolas Yes, you are right. It depends on how you parse it. It could mean "Even though there was some performance not up to my taste/standard, I never stopped liking..." – Rathony Mar 7 at 6:02
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@EliSkolas: The review at RogerEbert.com was actually written by Glenn Kenny, not Roger Ebert. I don't know whether you're inclined to think that Mr. Kenny intended the distinction that you attribute to Mr. Ebert. It's there for the making, I suppose, but in my view "not liked" is not equivalent to "disliked," at least not in the hands of a careful writer. Hence, I stick with my reading that "never not liked" = "always liked," not "never disliked." – Sven Yargs Mar 7 at 6:51
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To me, "I never stopped liking" is equivalent to "I continued without pause to like," which is very similar to "I always liked." The thing is that commenters EliSkolas and CGCampbell are quite right to point out that "I never not liked" is ambiguous in a way that "I never stopped liking" is not. People do use "I do not like X" and"I dislike X" interchangeably in many situations. But "I have never not liked" is so highly stylized that I think treating the "not liked" in it as identical to "disliked" is a mistake. The author might be making that equivalence or he might not. It is also worth ... – Sven Yargs Mar 7 at 15:40
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...observing that "have not liked" has a different force than "do not like." I might say of a comedian that I used to admire, "I haven't liked his work in years." A listener might infer that I dislike the person's current work, but it is a stretch to infer that I have disliked his work for years. The "haven't liked" wording encompasses a cooling of affection over a period of time, and the cooling may have ended in active dislike or in neutrality. The double negative in "never not liked" is so stilted that its meaning is subject to sharply divergent interpretations—and mine still works for me. – Sven Yargs Mar 7 at 15:50

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