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The phrase "Doesn't do nothing" is often used when a person actually means, "Doesn't do anything."

Should I avoid using this phrase? Generally, I would, but in my context, I want to negate what I had said previously.

Example:

I wrote that clicking a button does nothing. Later on, I found out that it does do something, so I want to write that I was wrong and that it, in fact, doesn't do nothing but does x.

Is it okay to write it like this or should I avoid it because people commonly misuse this phrase to mean the opposite?

marked as duplicate by anongoodnurse, Drew, user140086, Nathaniel, JEL Jan 14 '16 at 5:14

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  • I would avoid the phrase. Unless you intend to be colloquial, in which case the proper phrase is "don't do nuttin'". – Hot Licks Jan 13 '16 at 1:33
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    Whereas this is a phrase I would not usually say, I would say it in this context. You aren't using it in the semantically incorrect way but in the correct way. "I found out that that button didn't do nothing; it did something, and that something changed everything, changed the world. The world would never be the same again." – Benjamin Harman Jan 13 '16 at 1:53
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    I appreciate the question but asking if this is "okay" is not really the best way to go about finding information because it's a vague question. Are you asking: - Is it grammatical by standards of English grammar? Yes it is. - Is it clear to a native speaker? No, as you implied, it's very likely to be misunderstood. - Would each of us advise it? That's an opinion question, but I would not advise it. Clarity in language is a very important value to me. You have to ask yourself what you're trying to accomplish by writing this passage. – CynicallyNaive Jan 13 '16 at 2:16
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The context you supply:

doesn't do nothing but does x

makes it clear that you're using the phrase "doesn't do nothing" in the way you intend.

To avoid the problematic construct altogether, you could say something along the lines of:

Contrary to my previous report, the button isn't passive but instead does x.

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In English, a double negative is taken literally, so the two negatives cancel each other out. In some other languages multiple negatives merely add weight to the negation.

  • I agree, but if you read the question, the asker actually wants the two to cancel each other out, so to speak. – CynicallyNaive Jan 13 '16 at 1:52
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If you value clarity, @Lawrence has some great suggestions. Here are some more.

I wrote that clicking a button does nothing. Later on, I found out that it does do something, so I want to write that contrary to my previous report, it does in fact do something.

I wrote that clicking a button does nothing. Later on, I found out that I was wrong, so I want to write explaining my error. [It is not true that the button does nothing; to the contrary, it actually does something.]

The sentence in brackets is clearer than yours but still somewhat wordy. I think it can be omitted without much loss, but if you feel a strong need to assert the falseness of the proposition that the button does nothing, then this would be a much better way to do it.

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