Does a triple negative make a positive? eg "Ain't nobody gonna eat none of my jellyroll."

closed as off-topic by J. Taylor, sumelic, JJJ, Cascabel, Mitch Apr 5 at 19:00

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    Are you talking about colloquial usage (where that sentence means nobody's eating any of my jellyroll) or literal and syntactical usage (where that sentence means there is somebody who will eat none of my jellyroll)? Colloquially, double negatives don't actually mean a positive—they mean a negative. – Jason Bassford Apr 1 at 17:09
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    mmm in algebra a triple negative makes a negative, no? Your sentence isn't really a triple negative because the nobody and none will be interpreted as agreeing with the ain't, not as being negatives in their own right. If you have a genuine triple negative. as in it turned out not to be the case that there was nobody who didn't like her, then yes that does have a positive meaning, as in algebra. – Minty Apr 1 at 17:09
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    No, they do not. See this ELL question & answer which covers very similar territory. – Hellion Apr 1 at 17:10
  • There is no such thing as a triple negative. Only a triple misinterpretation. – Lambie Apr 1 at 17:19
  • Possible duplicate of What constitutes a double negative? – Mitch Apr 5 at 19:00

In "standard" English dialects, negating a negation makes a positive statement. I am not typing nothing means I am typing something. And by this same logic, I am not not typing nothing would mean I am typing nothing. A memorable example of this is a line from Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey: "That was non-non-non-NON-heinous!" In other words, that was heinous.

However, numerous non-standard English dialects use double negation as a form of emphasis. I didn't eat none of that food means I really did not eat any of that food. Just as in standard dialects, the addition of extra negatives follows a consistent logic. In this case, instead of additional negation, it's additional emphasis. "Ain't nobody gonna eat none of my jellyroll" would mean, no one is going to eat my jellyroll and I mean it!

  • I've never been convinced by the 'emphasis' idea. In ain't nobody gonna eat none of my jellyroll, I think nobody and none just mean anybody and any. It seems to me that in a given register people use either nobody or anybody - I just can't envisage someone who thinks they're both available in the same register and nobody can therefore be used to add emphasis. – Minty Apr 1 at 17:25
  • No, I am not typing nothing would not mean the same thing as I am not not typing nothing. – Jason Bassford Apr 1 at 17:29
  • Oops. Good catch @JasonBassford. – Juhasz Apr 1 at 17:30
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    @Minty I disagree. Ain't nobody sounds much more emphatically negative to me than ain't anybody. This is simply because nobody and none are negative words. – Jason Bassford Apr 1 at 17:35
  • but no more emphatic than "Is nobody..."? – Philip Wood Apr 1 at 17:39

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