As the title implies, this blog post is about double negatives. You’re not supposed to use them, right? Well, most of the time they’re not appropriate. Generally they don’t sound good, they’re unpleasant to listen to, and so often suggest a limited intelligence or vocabulary, especially if you use them frequently. Also, we’re told the second negative tends to reverse or countermand the first one, and the double negative really becomes a positive. In that sense, the title actually means, “Go ahead, use a double negative.” And that’s what I want to talk about.
In most cases a double negative is bad, but there are a few places where a double negative is useful. I ran across this when listening to other writers try to answer the question, “Why do I write?” The writing magazine Poets and Writers has a department that appears in most issues called “Why We Write.” Most of the writers who contribute to this section have a particular reason to write, such as to tell a personal story, or to memorialize a family member, or some other specific reason. But there’s also a broader reason for writing, one that I and, I suppose, many other writers have a difficult time addressing. The usual answer to why we write is, “I can’t not write.” And the double negative rears it’s ugly head.
Strictly, that phrase, taken at face value means, “I can write.” But that’s not what we writers who use the phrase mean at all. Of course we can write. We’re writers. It’s our business. But in the statement, “I can’t not write,” the double negative is appropriate because it states a fact that can’t be stated any other way. At least not well. I write because I have stories to tell and I want to tell them. They’re in me and have to come out. I feel drawn to the computer keyboard in a way that I’m not drawn to anything else. At least not since I stopped going to work every day because I was drawn to the workbench in a virology laboratory where I experimented with viruses, trying to figure out how and why they caused disease. That was quite a draw. I spent over forty years doing it, and now the computer has become my new workbench. I can’t not write.
Do you write? Why?