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The litotes has had detractors other than George Orwell. The following is from "The Logic of Logical Double Negation" by Laurence R. Horn of Yale University, at
http://www.let.uu.nl/~Henriette.deSwart/personal/Classes/variatieneg/horndn.pdf
(quote)
Despite their differences of the status of reinforcing negatives (where two negs are stronger than one) or over the less widely recognized practice of simple negative concord (where many negs simply express sentential negation without necessarily strengthening it), grammarians on both sides of the aisle converged to condemn the use of logical double negation as a marginal, superfluous, and suspiciously Latinate phenomenon.

Like the not un- formation in particular, the superordinate (or overlapping) category of litotes has not enjoyed a particularly favorable press, especially from the vitriol-dipped pen of "Martinus Scriblerus" (1727: 115) a pseudonymous stand-in for the triumvirate of Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and John Arbuthnot in The Art of Sinking, where our poor figure is defaced as "the peculiar Talent...of Ladies, Whisperers, and Backbiters." It is presumably just such individuals who might have reason, through choice or necessity, to conceal their feelings, avoid overstatement and direct commitment, and allow themselves loopholes.

(end quote)

Raymond S. Wise
Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
E-mail: mplsray @ yahoo . com
I, in my UK English way, use "not un-xx" all the time - I have had to moderate my use when speaking to my Japanese colleagues as they find it very difficult to parse.

Really? Isn't it the case that Japanese people are not unlikely to not avoid double negations? But the same in a foreign language is still another matter.
I might use "not unintelligent", but it's unlikely as it is faintly derogatory.

This seems to be the consensus here and is important for me to keep in mind, because the equivalent in my native German wouldn't be, normally.
Oliver Cromm
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Oliver Cromm typed thus:
I, in my UK English way, use "not un-xx" all ... Japanese colleagues as they find it very difficult to parse.

Really? Isn't it the case that Japanese people are not unlikely to not avoid double negations? But the same in a foreign language is still another matter.

No.
At least, I'm not unconvinced that I'm not wrong.

David
==
david56 filted:
I find it a very useful construct to convey a shade of meaning which would not be understood from the ... seem to mind - I asked "So you would not be unhappy if X were delayed for a short while?"

I was just about to suggest "not unhappy" as the least troublesome instance of this...it's not unfamiliar, not unsettling, not unusual, not unlikely to occur as are most other cases I can think of..
(I suppose someone dealing with fairies might have occasion to use "not unseely" on not infrequent occasions)..r
Here is Fowler's opinion (MEU, 1927, s.v. not 2):`We say well & elegantly, not ungrateful, for very grateful' OED quotation dated 1671. It is by this time a faded or jaded elegance, this replacing of a term by the negation of its opposite; jaded by general over-use; faded by the blight of *Worn-out humour*.. But the very popularity of the idiom in English is proof enough that there is something in it congenial to the English temperament, & it is pleasant to believe that it owes its success with us to a stubborn national dislike of putting things too strongly.

It is clear too that there are contexts to which e.g. not inconsiderable is more suitable than considerable ; by using it we seem to anticipate & put aside, instead of not forseeing or ignoring, the possible suggestion that so-&-so is inconsiderable. The right principle is to acknowledge that the idiom is allowable, & then to avoid it except when it is more than allowable..

Joe Fineman (Email Removed)
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I was just about to suggest "not unhappy" as the least troublesomeinstance of this...it's not unfamiliar, not unsettling, not unusual, ... I can think of.. (I suppose someone dealing with fairies might have occasion to use "notunseely" on not infrequent occasions)..r

In the same order as you have given:-
reasonably content
reasonably familiar
unremarkable
fairly normal
fairly common
not unseely (I do not understand this one about fairies) quite often
Richard Chambers Leeds UK.
Dear all, What do you think of the construction "a not unintelligent man"? I know it is not prescriptively approved, ... man"? Is this form as commonly accepted by native speakers as "a not unintelligent man"? Thank you very much. Ray

Standard American English/Data Processing
A number can be negative, zero, positive.
A person can be unintelligent, neither unintelligent nor intelligent, intelligent.
I take 'not an unintelligent man' to mean 'he is neither unintelligent nor intelligent,' or 'he is intelligent.' The exact sense is given by the context.
I think it is often too much to expect a reader, especially a listener, to parse
the double negative.Today, we usually prefer plainspoken English: 'he is intelligent' or 'he is stupid.'
Jim
Richard Chambers filted:

It appears I picked the minority spelling...Google says 107 hits for "unseely" and "about 16,200" for "unseelie"...from one of the former (a page giving background information for a role-playing game):
The Sidhe are divided up into two groups. The Seely and the UnSeely Courts. The Seely Court is given to merriment, laughter and the thrill of the moment. They are light hearted and not infrequently compassionate. The Seely Court is ruled by their Queen; who the Queen is at any given time is determined by which Sidhe has recently done the a remarkable thing that won the admiration of the Court.

The UnSeely Court is of a much different nature. This Court has been ruled for time out of mind by The Fool; so named for his willingness to undertake any enterprise regardless of how dangerous, twisted, or demented. This is the Dark Court of Fairie, given to destruction, terror, and fear. Compassion is known here only as a hole in the armor of those to be brought low.

The Seely and UnSeely Courts exist in armed truce. The game they play with each other involves tempting individual Sidhe from one side to the other. This truce has lasted for millennia. The only events which have upset the truce have been intrusions into Tuathan by the other races through either Mounds or Circles. As a rule, the Seely Court will try to take in the outsiders, hoping for new sources of entertainment and amusement. The UnSeely Court will try and take the outsiders for the same reasons; however, entertainment to the Dark Sidhe involves pleasures such as torture, terror, and the liberal application of fear.

..r
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Dear all, What do you think of the construction "a not unintelligent man"? I know it is not prescriptively approved, but is it normal in actual speech?

Yes. This "not un-" formulation is not uncommon in the UK.
Also, what about the construction "a not intelligent man"? Is this form as commonly accepted by native speakers as "a not unintelligent man"?

No. It's unidiomatic.
Adrian

b. England 1966; SE Cheshire -1986; Birmingham to date
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