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I Can't Hardly Believe It's Thanksgiving

The human brain has to work hard to assimilate negative words, especially strings of them. Lawyers and legislators tie themselves in nots, and even they trip over sentences like this one from a newspaper reporter:

In a terse ruling issued yesterday, the court found that Morgan County Superior Court Judge Roger Donaldson did not err in refusing to keep Initiative 34 off the general election ballot.

Encountering negative words forces us to go through a two-step process to sort them out. First, we have to identify the negative words, which sometimes is difficult. (In the title above, the word “hardly” is “negative in effect,” so when you negate it, you have a double negative.)

 

In a terse ruling issued yesterday, the court found that Morgan County Superior Court Judge Roger Donaldson did not err in refusing to keep Initiative 34 off the general election ballot.

With negative words identified, we now have to hark back to eighth grade algebra, where we first learned that two negatives make a positive, and toss them out two at a time. She loves me, she loves me not.

 

In a terse ruling issued yesterday, the court found that Morgan County Superior Court Judge Roger Donaldson was correct in allowing Initiative 34 to stay on the general election ballot.

That’s much clearer. No one has to stop and count. Everyone understands the first time. Sometimes we have to use a negative, but we should avoid three kinds:

 

A simple negative made clearer and shorter in the affirmative:

This argument has not met with much success.
This argument has met with little success.

A negative followed by the word “any”:

Mr. Wood did not conduct any tests himself.
Mr. Wood conducted no tests himself.

And the plain old double negative:

The Department is barred from disallowing the exemptions.
The Department must allow the exemptions. 

Let’s give our readers a break; we all digest the positive much easier.

 

Your homework over the holiday: As you fall asleep one night, think about this statement and how you would write it in the positive:

 

About whether to brine the turkey: I could not fail to disagree with you less.

Call me in the morning. Sweet dreams. And Happy Thanksgiving.

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About Gary Kinder

Gary Kinder

WordRake founder Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for AMLAW 100 firms, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. As a writing expert and coach, Gary was inspired to create WordRake when he noticed a pattern in writing errors that he thought he could address with technology.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to help writers produce clear, concise, and effective prose. It saves time and gives confidence. Writing and editing has never been easier.

WordRake takes you beyond the merely grammatical to the truly great—the quality editor you’ve always wanted. See for yourself.

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How Does it Work?

WordRake is editing software designed by writing expert and New York Times bestselling author Gary Kinder. Like an editor or helpful colleague, WordRake ripples through your document checking for needless words and cumbersome phrases. Its complex algorithms find and improve weak lead-ins, confusing language, and high-level grammar and usage slips.

WordRake runs in Microsoft Word and Outlook, and its suggestions appear in the familiar track-changes style. If you’ve used track changes, you already know how to use WordRake. There’s nothing to learn and nothing to interpret. Editing for clarity and brevity has never been easier.