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!

  • 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.

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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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