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Lately I've heard people using what I think to be a negative response to indicate a positive affirmation, like so:

Example 1

You can touch the basketball rim? Well so can't I!

Example 2

Person A: "Dave can't go today, he's feeling sick."
Person B: "Yeah, so isn't Mark."

In example one, the speaker is re-affirming that he can touch the rim. In example two, Person B is confirming that Mark is also sick. So why can't and isn't instead of can and is?

If this usage is incorrect, is there any root to its prevalence?

For background, I live in New England.

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    I live in south-western Canada and have never heard this. – Anonym Jan 19 '16 at 13:43
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    If I heard that exchange, I would take it that the speaker was assuming (or suggesting) a negative response and agreeing with it. In the first example he assumes you can't touch the rim, and agrees with it. And in example two he assumes that Dave isn't feeling sick and responds that Mark too isn't sick. – Roaring Fish Jan 19 '16 at 13:53
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    For the record, I've never heard this construct before, and I would be totally confused upon hearing it. (North Carolina born and raised, but have lived other places.) – Tim Ward Jan 19 '16 at 16:06
  • Yeah, I've never heard this kind of construction and would be confused as to its meaning (and would likely suspect that the speakers were not native English speakers). I've lived several places in the Midwest and a bit in New Jersey. – Hot Licks Jan 21 '16 at 22:35
  • I just heard my mother-in-law use this, standing in her kitchen right now. Speaker A: "Yeah, Jim is coming because he wants to win the beer basket!" Mother-in-law: "Oh I know, so doesn't Dan!" – Trevor D Jan 23 '16 at 20:50
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This is widespread, but relatively rare; it's called the so don't I construction.
As it happens, I was one of the first to study this construction, since it's part of my idiolect.

Briefly,

  • the negative is essentially spurious, and has no meaning
  • the construction is restricted to so-clauses with Subject-Auxiliary Inversion
  • the construction is a tag, and echoes an auxiliary from a previous clause, like a tag question
    He's leaving tomorrow, isn't he? ~ He's leaving tomorrow, and so isn't she.
    (this is also the way normal non-negative so clauses like and so is she work.)

Further details in the links.

Executive Summary: Don't worry about it. English is more various than you expected, that's all.

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    Oh my God, I've always wanted to see this kind of detailed research and explanation for some of the linguistic things I notice but others can never seem to explain. I heard it at work this morning - which prompted the question - but my fiancee uses it regularly enough to take note of it. The first time I heard her use this, I asked for clarification and corrected her, but to my amazement she didn't understand why I was thrown off. But this explains it quite well. – Trevor D Jan 19 '16 at 14:56
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    I'll worry about it only if the nuclear football is involved. – ab2 Jan 21 '16 at 20:58
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John Lawler nailed it.

The only thing I would add is that this construction usually connotes sarcasm. I'm also a New Englander, and also grew up using it. I still said "so do I" and "so can I" all the time; when I said "so can't I!" it implied that your statement was somehow ridiculous, usually because you're stating the obvious or bragging about a humdrum achievement.

"I can bench press 50 pounds!" "Yeah? So can't my grandmother!"

In fact the most common occurrence of this construction, in my experience, is in statements like "so can't anyone!" or "so isn't everyone!"

If you follow the link Mr. Lawler gave, the idea of "implicature canceling" meshes nicely. Saying you can do X implies that other people can't. The negative in "So can't I!" cancels that unspoken implication. Usually (in my experience anyway), that situation calls for sarcasm. A linguistics professor pointed out that the construction is used much more by children than by adults, and I offered the speculation that that's why: it's a bit impolite because of the implied sarcasm.

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