0

Is "Of all the things money can't buy, law isn't one" grammatically correct?

closed as off-topic by Dan Bron, lbf, AmE speaker, J. Taylor, JMP Aug 5 '18 at 10:03

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Proofreading questions are off-topic unless a specific source of concern in the text is clearly identified." – Dan Bron, lbf, AmE speaker, J. Taylor, JMP
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 2
    Sadly, it is correct. (Though you have to think about it a bit to get the meaning.) – Hot Licks Aug 3 '18 at 11:39
  • 1
    Makes no sense to me. "Of all the things" expressly means that law is one of those things. But then you say that it isn't. Which one is it, now. You can't have it both ways. – RegDwigнt Aug 3 '18 at 11:45
  • 1
    @RegDwigнt - "Of all the things" means that this collection to my right is the complete set of things that money can't buy. Why is it wrong to say that "law" isn't in that collection? – Hot Licks Aug 3 '18 at 11:54
  • @HotLicks because by saying "of all the things" you have expressly included the law in that collection. And now you're trying to exclude it. You are contradicting yourself. The fixed phrase "of all the things/people" is used to highlight the fact that you have many options, and you pick one of those options, but your choice is poor or otherwise peculiar. You can say "of all the cars you could buy, you went with Dodge?" But you can't say "of all the cars you could buy, bicycle isn't". That just makes no sense at all. – RegDwigнt Aug 3 '18 at 12:07
  • 1
    @RegDwigнt - How do you know what's included in the set? Yeah, it's not using the phrase in the usual idiomatic fashion, but that's just part of the (intentional) garden pathiness of it all. – Hot Licks Aug 3 '18 at 12:30
3

It's a (grammatically correct) double negative saying that something (law) is not a part of a group of things someone can't do... -.-

So, if we flipped each one (you have to be mindful of maintaining semantic balance when you flip double negatives), we would end up with a sentence like:

Of all the things money can buy, Law is one (of those things).

Or, more simply:

Money can buy Law.

There are subtleties lost in such a direct of form expression, which is why the author chose to convey the message in their quasi-litotic style.

  • Yeah no. Smoke and mirrors. Of course if we specifically go and reword the sentence to expressly mean what we actually want it to mean, then that rewording will be fine. The OP is not asking about "money can buy law". The OP is asking about "Of all the things money can't buy, Law isn't one" which is a completely different sentence that doesn't work anywhere the same as your rewording. – RegDwigнt Aug 3 '18 at 13:12
  • Yeah no: Yeah. "There are many things money can't buy: happiness, health, or good luck. Law isn't one of the things money cannot buy." That does, quite in fact, mean that Money Can Buy Law. Please propose another answer if you still disagree. – tidbertum Aug 3 '18 at 13:18
  • Um, where did you get that sentence from. That's not the sentence the OP is asking about. Why do you keep coming up with ever new sentences and answering questions about them. Nobody asked any questions about any of the sentences you are talking about. – RegDwigнt Aug 3 '18 at 13:51
  • But if you wished to reword the original sentence the way you did, the correct rewording would be "There are many things money can't buy: happiness, health, good luck, and law. But law isn't one of them. Although I only just said that it was." – RegDwigнt Aug 3 '18 at 13:53
  • I wished to reword the sentence in the manner in which I did, not in the manner which you present here. Please allow me to spell it out for you, if you have not had coffee yet: Let there be a Set, S, of things that money cannot buy. Let ΣS represent the complete list (keyword: all) of items within S. Is "Law" a member of ΣS? If you answer, "No," then "Law isn't one [of the members of ΣS]." You present the phrase as nonsensical here because you assume that the statement isn't rhetorical, which it plainly is. I suppose you would have us do away with poetry, too. – tidbertum Aug 3 '18 at 15:58
2

It is grammatically correct, but nonsensical. Because of your use of the word all.

The construction "of all the blahs" signals to the reader that you are talking about a group of things, that are all blahs, from which you are about to single out one thing to compare it to all the other things in that group. You are about to explain how there's that one blah in that group that is different from all the other blahs.

  • Of all the primates, gorillas are the biggest.
  • Of all the palaces, the Louvre is my favorite.
  • Of all the things I can buy, law is the cheapest.

However, in your case the comparison you are trying to draw is that unlike every other element in the group, the element that you've singled out from the group actually isn't in the group at all. And that just doesn't make any sense. You are stating two things that directly contradict each other.

  • Of all the primates, crocodiles are not primates.
  • Of all my favorite palaces, David Hasselhoff isn't one.
  • Of all the apples in the basket, this apple is not in the basket.
  • Of all my closest friends, Osama bin Laden never was one.
  • Of all the gaming console manufacturers on the market, Reebok isn't one.
  • Of all the things I cannot buy, law is a thing I can buy.
  • Of all the stupid people on the Internet, you are not one.

This just doesn't work. At best it's rather comical, and indeed can be deliberately played for comedic effect. At worst it's utter nonsense.

If being funny is not your intention at all, which given the topic it might or might not be, then you need to reword.

Edit in response to comment: Yes, you can also expressly use this construction for surprise effect "to highlight the Purchasability of Law". Observe:

  • Of all the things money can't buy, law is the one money can buy most easily.
  • Of all the things money can't buy, law is the one with the lowest price tag.
  • Of all the things money can't buy, law is on sale most often.

Or any number of other alternatives. This actually has the punch you're after, and makes it clear that it's a point you're deliberately making. What you have right now is muddy and raises the question if it's deliberate at all, just a typo, or lack of sufficient command of the language.

  • The statement is clearly rhetorical and phrased in the manner which it is for effect. The interpretations you listed above, which are not consistent in their applications of your purported rules, go against the spirit of the utterance, which is to highlight the Purchasability of Law. – tidbertum Aug 3 '18 at 16:01
  • @tidbertum it is not clearly rhetorical, and the effect of this manner is "what the heck are you on about". You can make it clearly rhetorical, and you can phrase it in a manner for the desired effect. But there is nothing in the question or the statement that suggests that the effect is desired in the first place. You are imagining it. – RegDwigнt Aug 3 '18 at 17:39
  • @JasonBassford precisely right. That is exactly my point. If an item is not part of the group, you have no business saying it is. Which is exactly what the original sentence does. That is what "Of all the items in the group" means. – RegDwigнt Aug 3 '18 at 20:11
  • +1 I agree with the awkwardness of the original quote. Oddly enough, if the quote started with the word out: "Out of all the X, Y isn't one", it sounds fine. – Lawrence Aug 4 '18 at 3:47
2

I'm going to echo the answer provided by tidbertum but present it in a graphical fashion.

enter image description here

And to paraphrase the original sentence, with some styling and emphasis:

Of [all the things that money can't buy], law is not one [of those things].

To further echo tidbertum and analyze the meaning of the sentence, because it's not one of those things that money can't buy, it is, logically, something that money can buy.

  • 1
    Is not the logical problem here to do with the word 'of'? It is that word that might mislead the reader into thinking that law is 'of' the set of all the things that money can't buy. And then we read that law is not a member of that set at all. An apparent contradiction! As so often in language, however, logic only gets one only so far in understanding what is meant. – JeremyC Aug 3 '18 at 21:04
  • @JeremyC I agree that the wording might be slightly awkward, and I would likely rephrase it myself. (I can happily add a rephrased version that would avoid any confusion.) But doesn't the use of the comma and isn't, upon analysis of the complete sentence, preclude the opposite meaning from being obtained? In other words, isn't the contradiction only seemingly apparent (if taken that way) until further thought is given to it? – Jason Bassford Aug 3 '18 at 21:13
  • 1
    I did not say that I was misled by the sentence. I found its meaning perfectly clear, but I was trying to understand why one of our colleagues was so adamant that the whole sentence was logical nonsense. Personally I found it a very effective bit of rhetoric (and I recall that traditionally rhetoric was taught as a separate subject from logic). – JeremyC Aug 3 '18 at 21:22
  • 1
    @JeremyC Ah, understood. I, too, believe that it's an effective use of rhetoric. – Jason Bassford Aug 3 '18 at 21:30
  • 1
    Yes, and I would add other things to the Law circle, like Coffee, Houses, Corrupt Politicians (an extension of the Law principle, in a sense), etc. :) – tidbertum Aug 4 '18 at 0:30

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.