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The English wikipedia page for Nothing starts with the sentence:

Nothing is a pronoun denoting the absence of anything.

I was expecting

Nothing is a pronoun denoting the absence of everything.

since in the context a positive answer is expected.

Googles: N-gram viewer shows that anything is more common than everything in this context, so I assume that anything is the natural choice here. But why is that?

  • Since "nothing" means there exists not even one thing (anything) it follows that everything ("all things") must be missing too. So both statements are logically correct. No? – Margana Sep 11 '15 at 22:57
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It has to do with how we confirm the presence of nothing.

When you look into a bucket you don't think, "Hmm is there a cat in there? No, how about a dog? No, how about..."

You you look in the bucket you don't check for everything that isn't in there. You check for what is in there.

There is also the fact that we like sentences that negate symmetrically like this:

If there is anything in the bucket then what's in there isn't nothing.

If there is not anything in the bucket then what's in there is nothing.

As opposed to this:

If everything is not in the bucket then what's in there is nothing.

If everything is in the bucket you've got one heck of a big bucket.

I wonder how you got the bucket in there.

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Possibly because at least most of the other ways we would describe nothingness would use the word "anything," not "everything," e.g., "there isn't anything left," not "there isn't everything left." Put slightly differently, as soon as we have "anything," we no longer have "nothing."

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