I have noticed a to me confounding linguistic trend in the last few years of which I came across an example tonight:

"Every receiver doesn’t become a star." (from here)

This type of wording just sounds wrong to me, and doesn't even make sense (or it doesn't mean, in my mind, what the writer obviously thinks it means). To me, when you say (or write), "Every receiver doesn’t become a star." you're talking/writing about "every receiver" and so what is really being said/written is "no receiver becomes a star."

It seems manifest to me that the correct phrasing should be, "Not every receiver becomes a star." And, if I'm not mistaken, that's the way people used to speak and write, but now they have adopted this confusing and I think inaccurate way of putting it.

Am I wrong?

  • This is an issue of scope. Someone might argue that "Every receiver doesn’t become a star" could possibly be interpreted as "It is not the case that every receiver becomes a star". There are questions on this site that are similar to yours. ("All that glitters is not gold" might be one of them.) – F.E. May 7 '14 at 4:57
  • Here's a related thread: english.stackexchange.com/questions/94882/… – F.E. May 7 '14 at 5:07
  • One swallow does not a summer make – Kris May 7 '14 at 6:38
  • @F.E.: In the link you provided, I found the description of this travesty I sought in vain: "where a universal quantifier scoping over negation gives a counterintuitive meaning." – B. Clay Shannon May 7 '14 at 14:00

First of all, you make a very valid point. The same thought as yours crosses my mind whenever I hear someone use this type of construction.

There's a well-known proverb in English that goes, "All that glitters is not gold" (meaning 'not everything that looks attractive actually turns out to be so'). I wonder whether the similar structure of this familiar proverb (which is as illogical as your query text) may have influenced the writer of "Every receiver doesn't become a star".

It would be interesting to know how prevalent this kind of usage is compared with the format of the more logically-structured alternative. My guess is that it is relatively rare -- I certainly hope so.

  • Actually, I heard this construction a LOT in Wisconsin (where this writer is "coming from"). We spent 15 years there, and those folks have a lot of weird ways of expressing themselves (to my Western/Californian ears, anyway). – B. Clay Shannon May 7 '14 at 4:56
  • Isn't this essentially an observation and opinion than an answer? – Kris May 9 '14 at 4:32
  • The questioner directly invited observation and opinion as a component of the responses. So I gave him some; the fact that he posted a chatty comment of his own in reply vindicates the way I replied to his question. – Erik Kowal May 9 '14 at 4:42

It's perfectly okay. Words can be played around, structures can morph. It does make sense to say

One swallow does not a summer make.

or for that matter,

Every receiver doesn’t become a star.
Not every receiver becomes a star.
It isn't that every receiver that becomes a star.

It's more literary than strictly formal writing, though. However, the rearrangement serves to shift focus, draw attention by its unconventional structure.

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