Sunday, July 12, 2015


I'm a very straight-forward writer, and I write the way an English professor taught me in my freshman English class in college in 1967.  After reading my first paper she called me to her office to show me the paper, which was really bad to say it positively.

She asked me what I was trying to say in the paper, and I explained it. After hearing my explanation, she said I should write the way I speak, meaning write a paper as if I'm giving a speech. Write it, organize it, and rewrite it.

She asked where I learned English composition in school and I had to admit I never had the class as we (family, dad in the military) moved so often I attended 13 schools in my 12 years of school including 3 schools in one year. I also missed the year they required English composition.

It worked as I passed with decent grades and have followed that advice ever since, including graduate school and my thesis. It's a good hour's read and you're done and bored. Graduate papers do that. But that's not the point here but a comparison.

I was reading the print version of the New York Times, like I do every Sunday with two other newspapers (Seattle Times and Tacoma News Tribune, and occasionally the weekend version of the Wall Street Journal), and read this sentence.

"If I don't have zero e-mails in both my personal and work inboxes, I can't sleep."

That's one of those double negative writers like to use to either confuse the reader, or at least readers like me, or try to impress you with the literary style. Or it's just their style, but why not write,

"I can't sleep if I have any e-mail in my personal and work inboxes."

Says the same thing and doesn't stop the reader trying to figure out the double negative. But it's why the writer has a column and I don't, to make simple points complex and literary.


  1. Ah yes, "A Eulogy for the Long, Intimate Email" - I glanced at that story. :) To be fair, they were quoting 27 year old Emma Allen, presumably writing whatever came out of her mouth. Now, she is/was a staffer for one of the NYC publications so she might be held to a higher standard than the rest of us, but the sentence isn't as weird when taken as a verbal statement. It's still wrong, but people talk that way; "zero emails" being treated as its own object, in this case.

    It brings up another point, though: If a publication is going to quote someone, should they edit the quote to make it grammatically correct? And if they do that, is it still a quote? I don't know the answer but now that you bring up the subject, it makes me wonder. :)

  2. Even spoken it's an awkward sentence with the double negative, the use of "zero" for an amount, and beginning with the "If" part of the sentence. It's a, "Huh?" trying to interpret what it means. The writer of the article probably should have described her view than quote her.