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Context: "As this story is about my experiences as an ordinary prisoner, it is important that I mention, not without pride, that I was not employed as a psychiatrist in camp, or even as a doctor, except for the last few weeks."

Does this mean he felt pride, he felt shameful, or something else? Thanks!

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Nigel J, user240918, DJClayworth, Scott Mar 8 '18 at 19:11

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  • Double negatives in English traditionally equal positives. – J. Taylor Mar 7 '18 at 17:36
  • @EdwinAshworth did you flag it? I can't actually tell (I have, but if that text is automatic it doesn't add it again when I flag it) ... – Will Crawford Mar 8 '18 at 3:12
  • It means that the author doesn’t dislike multiple negatives.    :-)    ⁠ – Scott Mar 8 '18 at 19:11

It is an example of litotes: saying something by denying the opposite. It means that he feels proud but is pretending that he does not want to boast.


Litotes is when an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary (OED). The OP litotes - not without pride - suggests that the speaker takes pride in the fact that he was not employed as a psychiatrist in camp, or even as a doctor, except for the last few weeks.

The passage also illustrates the problem of saying what you mean by expressing it as a double negative: The meaning is, usually, less clear.

Litotes often implies a subtext which requires context to be understood. Used well, it can be used effectively for a variety of purposes. For example:

to tease:

"...you didn't look completely out of place"

to reproach;

"...the fact you were drunk didn't make you useless"

to minimise impact;

"...don't worry, it wasn't the worst thing in the world"

to sound modest;

"...I'm not unfamiliar with Beethoven's music"

to highlight how preconceived notions may, in fact, be wrong;

"...this isn't a bad road"

But it is easy to use litotes clumsily and the result can make a speaker sound pompous, ridiculous and falsely modest.

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