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How should I interpret the following lyric from America: we ain't had no time to drink that beer?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Using correct grammar, this means:

We haven't had any time to drink any (that?) beer

It's hard to know what 'that' is referring to out of context, but quite likely 'the' or 'any' would work in place.

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I don't think this is actually a double negative. For example, in French to say "I don't know", you say "je ne sais pas." Both the "ne" and the "pas" mean 'no' in a sense, but you have to use them together to convey the sense of 'no'. I think in this case, "ain't... no" is a similar construction. And it just means "no" or "didn't", etc.

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A native French speaker would probably argue exactly the other way round: no need to have two words where one is enough. You'll notice that in French, ne is almost always dropped in everyday conversation. Heck, there's even a song by Celine Dion. :-) –  RegDwigнt Nov 11 '10 at 11:13
    
@RegDwight: I always found it strange that we dropped 'ne' in French but in school I was taught that the 'ne' was the required element whereas it was ok to drop 'pas' every time. I attributed this to speaking Quebec French at home but learning some standardized French at school. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Nov 11 '10 at 14:06
    
@Mr. Shiny and New: that's rather interesting. But either way, dropping is dropping. Compare that to Russian, where double negatives are so deeply engraved that it's hard if not impossible to get rid of them even on purpose. The only way to say "I'm not going anywhere" in Russian is by saying "I'm not going nowhere". And the only way to say "not do anything with anyone anywhere anytime" is by saying "not do nothing with noone nowhere never". If you try to drop any of the negatives, the result won't be colloquial, nonstandard, or ungrammatical; it'll be utterly incomprehensible. –  RegDwigнt Nov 11 '10 at 14:33
    
I suppose Rick Astley would be surpised to learn that in Russian, he would have to sing "Never gonna not give you up, never gonna not let you down, never gonna not run around and not desert you, never gonna not make you cry, never gonna not say goodbye, never gonna not tell a lie and not hurt you." –  RegDwigнt Nov 11 '10 at 14:44
    
@RegDwight: ah I think I was just misunderstanding the term of "double negative." I considered "I do not dislike him" double negation, or "I didn't not hurt him" the same, but not "I don't have no cheese" - I considered it equivalent to "I don't have any cheese," and not 'true' double negation. but yeah the russian is funny =P. it sounds perfectly normal in Russian, of course, not anything like the convoluted way it sounds in English. –  Claudiu Nov 11 '10 at 15:16
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The double negative in slang is generally redundant, i.e. it is a single negation.

"We aint had no time" actually means "We aint had time"

Or, to quote uncyclopedia

A double negative doesn't occur when no two forms of non-negation aren't not used in no not-same unsentence. Not in no languages no non-double unnegative doesn't resolve not to a non-negative, while in no others it doesn't not resolve to no not-positive.

... and so on :)

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