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Really? Isn't it the case that Japanese people are not ... because the equivalent in my native German wouldn't be, normally.

As pointed out by someone else, it is not always derogatory - it depends on the context.

I don't recall anyone pointing that out. It is never strictly derogatory, but it is often faint praise. In some cases, as someone did point out, it is high praise.

Charles Riggs
My email address: chriggs/at/eircom/dot/net
It was in English translation. The point being that it was not, as Fowler seemed to think, peculiarly English in character.

Fowler wrote that understatement was "congenial," not "unique," to the "English character" (though he didn't specify which English character he ... Italian and brought it over, or rather decided to use a double-negative where some other form existed in the Italian.

I can't help there I no longer have the book, I've forgotten both the author and the title, and so can't even tell the English title, never mind the Italian one. It was about a family with the surname of Food I don't know if that was a translatio or a transcription.

Steve Hayes from Tshwane, South Africa
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'Alright' stands out like a roasted pig in a vegetarian restaurant, it is so abhorrent. As Alan confirms, the word is spelled 'all right'. End of story.

Not really. "Alright", IMO, is a pure shibboleth, like "Ain't I?". It has been made a mark of illiteracy, and so one has to avoid it, tho the illiterates have the better of the argument, as they sometimes do. A hint at how the taboo might have gotten started is afforded by Fowler's entry in the original MEU s.v. "quite":
The now favourite colloquial formula `quite all right' is a foolish Pleonasm, quite & all being identical in sense; `quite right' is all right, and `all right' is quite right, but `quite all right' is all quite wrong.
This shows ignorance of, or resistance to, the shift in meaning from "all right" = entirely right to "alright" = acceptable, which is usually marked by a shift in stress and might very reasonably be marked by a shift in spelling as well; cf. "already" vs "all ready". In the article "all right" he goes so far as to admit uses of "all right" as "a more or less fixed phrase", but the examples he gives do not cover much of the distance to "quite all right", and he vociferously maintains the taboo:
(T)here are no such forms as all-right , allright , or alright , though even the last, if seldom allowed by the compositors to appear in print, is often seen (through confusion with already & altogether) in MS.
Not confusion, say I, but a legitimate analogy perversely denied.
Joe Fineman (Email Removed)
'Alright' stands out like a roasted pig in a vegetarian ... confirms, the word is spelled 'all right'. End of story.

Not really. "Alright", IMO, is a pure shibboleth, like "Ain't I?". It has been made a mark of illiteracy, and ... (through confusion with already & altogether) in MS. Not confusion, say I, but a legitimate analogy perversely denied.

If Fowler had one virtue, it was his habit of swimming in winter.

R.
It's that sort of attitude that makes me want to use that spelling all the more.

Why am I not surprised? 'Alright' stands out like a roasted pig in a vegetarian restaurant, it is so abhorrent.

A roast pig would stand out in a vegetarian restaurant as the single appetising dish on offer. Not that I never eat vegetarian food.

Rob Bannister
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George Orwell, in one of his essays, suggests that people can free themselves from the "not un-" construction by memorising ... the not ungreen field". It can be very irritating when overused, but I wouldn't want to rule it out entirely.

I have always considered this the best argument against taking Orwell's linguistic musings seriously. Well, that and the entire text of 1984 .
Richard R. Hershberger
In really modern usage (i.e. 2004, not 1926), "alright" actually ... original posting. My grammar was all right. Alright? OK.

It's not all right with this Englishman, who would expect a sub-editor to correct your "alright"s.

Your posts are valuable as a rule, Alan, and this one certainly proves it.
Matti
Thank you for your helpful replies, but my question is not as much about double negation as about the position ... unintelligent man'. In other words, does prescriptive usage caution us against using 'not' directly in front of a prenominal adjective?

I might sometimes use "He is not an unintelligent man" if I wish to contradict somebody who has just said "He is lacking in intelligence". However, it is equally likely that I might say "I disagree. He is intelligent".
I cannot think of any other circumstance in which I would say "He is not an unintelligent man".
Personally, I would rarely use a construction such as "He is a not unintelligent man", as it is clumsy, indirect and contains a redundancy (he, man). I would be more likely to use this ordering in a more simplified form, such as "He is not unintelligent", which is more streamlined. There are two schools of thought that have posted here on this form of double negative. One school thinks that this form of wording is satisfactory and/or witty. The other school thinks that it is oblique and obfuscating, that it does not say precisely what the speaker intends to say, and that the humour is worn-out and over-used. I subscribe to this latter view, so it is not a construction that I would often use.
Richard Chambers Leeds UK.
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Dear all, What do you think of the construction "a ... as "a not unintelligent man"? Thank you very much. Ray

This is a type of litotes, or understatement. It is not uncommon. It is not unusual. It is not incorrect. Fowler says that it is not uncongenial to the English temperament, and is associated with a not unstubborn dislike of putting things too strongly.

"That young girl," Marvin added unexpectedly, "is one of the least benightedly unintelligent life forms it has been my profound lack of pleasure not to be able to avoid meeting.
Zaphod took a moment or two to find his way through this labyrinthine string of negatives and emerged at the other end with surprise."

Richard Bollard
Canberra, Australia