I have heard the phrase none too dissimilar used many times. Based on context, it seems to mean similar, or perhaps very similar.

Does none too dissimilar have a different meaning that I am missing?


The book and the movie were none too dissimilar.


None too means not very, so the sentence means that the book and the movie were not very different.

  • Is it very formal or can I use it in a casual conversation? – Armen Ծիրունյան Feb 7 '12 at 21:55
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    @Armen Tsirunyan: If I were you, I would only use it in casual conversation! In all Googles millions of indexed books it only occurs 30 times - some of which are hyphenated, suggesting the writer knows he's using an unusual form of words. Personally I think it's an extremely clumsy double negative, and I would point out that that double negatives in general are often associated with "low-quality" speech/speakers. – FumbleFingers Feb 7 '12 at 22:17

None too dissimilar means practically nothing.

All three words are negatives, i.e they all generate NPIs, and the relations between them are hardly spelled out.

None is a negative existential quantifier meaning not one or not any. Logically ¬(∃x).

Too is a quantificational adverb with complex syntax. If something is too P then it is P to a degree that causes some negative outcome. Logically (∃x) (Degree(P(x)) ∧ (Degree(P(x)) ⊃ ¬S).

Dissimilar is a symmetric negative predicate with two arguments -- either of which can be subject if the other is object, which is not the norm. The overt negative states that the degree of similarity is low; I won't bother with the logic here; the point is, it's complicated.

Hence these can be combined in any number of different ways, and it's simply not clear what this speaker or writer meant by the phrase. This process of overnegation seems destined to go on forever, as Larry Horn has pointed out.

  • Your attempted translation could do with some work, though. None here is clearly a simple negation: too does not require an existential quantifier in any definition: and the semantics of a double negative are neither complex nor ambiguous. – TimLymington Feb 7 '12 at 23:43
  • True. None too is mostly an idiom for not very, and that reduces it to duplex negatio confirmat. But it's not obvious to English learners (who constitute most of our readership here, I think) that it is an idiom, nor what it means, which generally argues against using it. – John Lawler Feb 7 '12 at 23:52
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    I've always thought the common idiom [arrive] none too soon is rather odd. It invariably means just soon enough/in the nick of time, but most other usages (e.g. none too smart, etc.) tend to imply not smart enough as much as not very smart. – FumbleFingers Feb 8 '12 at 1:15

I think the OP's sentence is OK as long as it's meant with a degree of sarcasm i.e. if the expectation is that the book and movie were supposed to be different, then their description as "none too dissimilar" is making the point that they were indeed similar.

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