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  1. "I am not a Feminist or I wouldn't tolerate you people."

I read this in the captions of a movie trailer and I found it hard to understand. There are two negative words and the use of the word or.

Does "I am not a Feminist or I wouldn't tolerate you people" mean "I am not a Feminist; if I was I wouldn't tolerate you people"?

Would either of these be considered better?

  1. "If I were a Feminist I wouldn't tolerate you people."
  2. "I am not a Feminist or else I wouldn't tolerate you people."

Is the original sentence considered good English?

  • 3
    There is no "double negative"--there is one negative for each clause. – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 13 '17 at 0:30
  • "It's not anything like that I'm a feminist or (that) I wouldn't tolerate you people." "I'm not a feminist and I can tolerate you people." "Or else I wouldn't tolerate you people if I were a feminst." There are many ways to say and mean the same thing as 1, 2, and 3. Whichever you say, I can tolerate you. – wordsalad Sep 13 '17 at 2:47
  • It's a good thing I'm not a feminist because if I were I wouldn't be able to tolerate you people. – Jim Sep 13 '17 at 4:41
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Your first guess (1.) is right. The clearest way to paraphrase the caption is probably:

I am not a feminist: because if I were a feminist, I wouldn't tolerate you people.

2) Is good grammatical English, but it misses out the clear assertion in the original that, 'I am not a feminist'.

3) Is also clear, common and acceptable in colloquial speech. It wouldn't be appropriate in every register, though, because it's ambiguous between: 'EITHER I'm not a feminist OR I wouldn't tolerate you people' (logical disjunction: which is semantically strange here, but grammatically OK); and 'I'm not a feminist, OTHERWISE I wouldn't...' (subjunctive).

As to whether the original is 'good English'? NO. The 'or' in the original sentence can be seen as a synonym for 'or else' or 'otherwise'. Because the word or is so common and has so many uses, this usage can be confusing. So, if 'good English' implies stylish, educated, logically clear, unambiguous... the original caption is a fail.

BUT:

i) In a film caption/subtitle, terseness can trump style. So the original might have been a great choice of words in situ.

ii) I always try to give references for my answers, but I don't know where to begin on this one... suggestions, anyone?

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