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I saw this sentence while reading:"The mansion was lovely-she particularly liked the topiary-but not a little intimidating." I don't understand the function of the not? from context she is intimidated, why is she saying she's not? Is little considered a negative and this is one of those stylistic double negatives?

Is the sentence just wrong? I remember seeing/hearing similar sentences in other older books and poetry but can't remember exact sources... thanks!

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, tchrist, Nathaniel, TimLymington, Chenmunka Nov 23 '15 at 12:22

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    What's being "notted" is "little". The amount of intimidation was not little. – Hot Licks Nov 20 '15 at 22:53

It's not really a double negative, which are generally mistakes of course (which would be more something like "I can't hardly do this"). I think this is a use of understatement (also known as litotes) for rhetorical effect; "not a little" is conveying the notion that it in fact is VERY intimidating.

At least that's how I'm reading it, not having additional context...

  • A 'double-negative' of the form "I don't have no problem with that" is not a mistake in grammar. It is highly undesirable in standard English and perfectly fine in very informal regional englishes. – Mitch Nov 20 '15 at 23:07
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    Right, but "standard English" is what's at issue in this forum and deviations from it are nonstandard and thus deemed "mistakes." Perhaps you're an apologist for "ain't" too? – Languagemaven Nov 20 '15 at 23:11
  • re std English - no not at all. This Q&A site concerns all varieties of English, all regions, all registers, all contexts. One can be pedantic about the socially preferred variety, but we can also be pedantic about other varieties. "We ain't stupid" is perfectly correct in many varieties of English, just not the formal/school taught variety. "We stupid ain't" is horribly wrong...no one says that. Of course you should be fired from a national newspaper for using either. But if you say 'mistake' you better make sure you're in the right context. – Mitch Nov 20 '15 at 23:40
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    Postmodernism is alive and well, I see. If "We ain't stupid" can't be considered incorrect just because certain people use it and therefore don't adhere to a standard, maybe we shouldn't deem murder wrong either since it's a deviation from a moral standard. – Languagemaven Nov 21 '15 at 0:10
  • No. There are real mistakes. I'm just as pedantic as you are. Do you say "I'm going to the hospital" or "I'm going to hospital"? Only one of those is right in context, but it depends on which context. – Mitch Nov 21 '15 at 0:36

Yes - a litote, for literary effect ... meaning that it was quite intimidating.

Overall though, the sentence is rather inelegant, and the force of the "not a little" is diluted through the construct of the essentially unrelated intrusion "-she particularly liked the topiary-".

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