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Many in the government disagree with a plan to debunk the low budget grassroots effort to expose the frivolity of Project X; the government employee’s union, with a newly elected leadership that more closely reflects the opinions of its members,__________ Project X.

Here, in the first part of the sentence, is double negative being used?

Does it means that the people in the government agree with exposing the frivolity of the project, if so how?

Shouldn't it mean the opposite, the government DISAGREE's to debunk i.e. not supporting the debunking plan?

  • "to debunk" is not the opposite of "to bunk", so what double negative are you talking about? – Fabby May 16 '15 at 20:02
  • I came across this question and in the explanation it says that it is a double negative, and that the first part of the sentence should mean that the government agees to expose the frivolity, is this correct? – rd22 May 16 '15 at 20:21
  • This is much more than a double negative. Disagree, debunk, frivolity, are all negative in either a logical or pejorative way, not to mention the implied pejoration of low-budget. Duplex negatio affirmat, sed triplex negatio confundit; i.e, double negatives affirm, but triple negatives confuse. If it's a test question, it must be a test on how to write badly. – John Lawler May 16 '15 at 20:23
  • There is no "double negative". It is hard to see, however, how the words after the semicolon will ever make sense, and the whole sentence is tortuously constructed. – Hot Licks May 16 '15 at 23:20
  • (Though I have to admit that the tortuous logic of the sentence is not unlike that of the US Congress.) – Hot Licks May 16 '15 at 23:42
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There is no double negative per se. The sentence has a series of nested modifying phrases that build on each other in a way that is difficult to track. In addition, the interaction of the words disagree and debunk seems to create a semantic reversal:

  1. Starting with the simple unmodified subject and and the simple unmodified verb we track the meaning one phrase at a time:

Many disagree.

  1. Which many disagree?

Many in the government disagree.

  1. How do they disagree?

Many in the government disagree with a plan.

  1. Which plan do they disagree with?

Many in the government disagree with a plan to debunk the effort.

  1. This is where the sentence seems to doubles back on itself semantically. Because they disagree with a plan to debunk the effort, it seems they tacitly endorse that effort.

Many in the government [endorse] the effort.

  1. Which effort do they endorse?

Many in the government [endorse] the effort to expose the frivolity of Project X.

So on its face, the sentence does suggest that many in the government endorse exposing the frivolity of Project X. For completeness, we include the final modifying phrase, which seems to be less relevant.

  1. What kind of effort to expose the frivolity?

Many in the government disagree with a plan to debunk the low-budget, grassroots effort to expose the frivolity of Project X.

The sentence is poorly crafted, and the because the conclusion is counterintuitive to our experience of frivolity in government, we naturally do a double-take and ask ourselves. When was the last time many in the government really endorsed exposing a frivolous project?

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