Does Anything does not go mean that everything will not always go ahead as expected?

And, is it an independent sentence and phrase or is it referring to "critical" in the next sentence like X (Anything does not go) and B (the hopefully impartial views of other experts) are critical?


And all but the most corrupt share the same desire to find some kind of truth about the structures, behaviours and contexts of the phenomena they study within their specialisms, even if they have to stay prepared for revolutionary changes of perspective. Anything does not ‘go’ and the hopefully impartial views of other experts are critical. And the quest for knowledge, real knowledge, drives everyone before it.

Sian Ede

  • 2
    The phrase (which is not an idiom) would appear to reference the idiom "anything goes", a phrase going back, supposedly, to the Roaring 20s and meaning more or less what it says (within reason). Beyond that I haven't the foggiest idea what the guy is trying to say. – Hot Licks Oct 12 '15 at 12:11
  • It could mean "Anything is not acceptable and..." pertaining to the relevance of the matter. – Mamta D Oct 12 '15 at 12:12
  • It is neither an idiom nor idiomatic. I agree with Hot Licks that it is a nonce modelling on 'Anything goes', but that was a comment on loose morals. Here, it would seem to be a criticism of less than rigorous experimental technique, and analysis / hypothesis testing. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 12 '15 at 12:25
  • @Edwin Ashworth I still can not understand what it means. Can you please rewrite the sentence with other words so that I can understand what a substitute for it can be? – user127733 Oct 12 '15 at 12:28
  • Sigh. Yet more impenetrability from Sian Ede. – Andrew Leach Oct 12 '15 at 12:34

In the context of this paragraph (which I will ignore),

  • Anything does not 'go'.

has a very specific meaning, but it owes as much to culture as to grammar.

First, the grammar. Anything is a Negative Polarity Item (NPI),
which means it can only occur in the scope of a negative word, like not.
However, this anything is the subject, and therefore isn't in the scope of this not.
That makes it ungrammatical.

Next, the culture. There is a famous Cole Porter musical, and a famous eponymous song, called "Anything Goes". The musical (and the lyrics of the song) celebrate an expression that was common in the "Roaring Twenties" in the US.

What anything goes means is that there are no prohibitions to worry about; do what you like.
This sentence is a specific negation of that idiomatic phrase, produced by simple negation.
Note also the 'scare quotes' around go; this is a specific reference to Porter's title.

And the any in anything goes turns out to be a different kind of any, the so-called "free-choice any", which can be a subject and doesn't need a negative. It does need a modal, however; i.e, Anybody can do it, but not *Anybody did it.

So the author intended to say: 'There are limits, and not all behavior is allowed'. It's the allowed part of the idiom's meaning that provides the modal sense that's necessary for a Possible-polarity any subject to be grammatical.


The quotation in your question is worded very poorly. Moreover, it needs to be supplemented with more context. My paraphrase of the quotation:

Most people (all but the most corrupt) want to find the truth about the structures, behaviours and contexts of the phenomena they study within their specialisms. Moreover, in their search for truth they are prepared to encounter revolutionary paradigms which potentially could turn their assumptions upside down.

On the other hand, corrupt people in their search for truth think "anything goes"; that is, they are entitled to do their own thing, ignoring the impartial views of other experts. Clearly, the "anything goes" search for knowledge is defective.

In the quest for real--or true--knowledge, the willingness to be proved wrong by one's peers is an important curb of the driving force in the search for truth.

I hope my paraphrase sheds some light on the unclear "anything does not 'go'" locution. The writer of the original quotation may have omitted some important, clarifying information, unless of course the information was contained in previous paragraphs which were not included in your particular excerpt.

  • Thank you @rhetorician :) It was very helpful. Could you explain a little more about " the quest for knowledge, real knowledge, drives everyone before it"? Does it mean "and this is a property of real knowledge that it attracts a lot of people"? – user127733 Oct 12 '15 at 14:00
  • Yes, at least in part. The word "quest" carries with it the connotation of being driven or goaded by the pursuit of an ideal. For those involved in the quest for truth, the driving force is PART AND PARCEL of that quest; that is, it fuels it. And yes, the majority of people (according to the author) make themselves accountable to their peers and their peers' insights. Those insights provide a check on the temptation to think "anything goes" in that quest. Thomas Kuhn's insights in this regard are quite valuable and are found in his book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions". Don – rhetorician Oct 12 '15 at 18:07

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