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? I would appreciate as many as native speakers' replies as possible and please reveal the variety of English you speak before providing your valuable opinions.
Also, what about the construction "a not intelligent man"? Is this form as commonly accepted by native speakers as "a not unintelligent man"?
Thank you very much.
Ray
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(Email Removed) (Raymond) wrote on 27 Feb 2004:
Dear all, What do you think of the construction "a not unintelligent man"?

It is not something I'd like to hear someone say abou me.
I know it is not prescriptively approved,

Nonsense. Perhaps a prescriptivist would tell you that it is not a polite way of telling someone that he is "not stupid", because there is no affirmation of the person's intelligence, just a negation of the person's stuidity, but I know of no proscription against this construction. it's not polite. It's not a compliment. it is, at best a "lefthanded compliment", ie a veiled insult.
but is it normal in actual speech?

Yes, it is normal in actual speech in the US. I have a friend who uses the construction quite often, in fact. I doubt that most American speakers use it often, though. I don't.
I would appreciate as many as native speakers' replies as possible and please reveal the variety of English you speak ... the construction "a not intelligent man"? Is this form as commonly accepted by native speakers as "a not unintelligent man"?

I don't think so. Most American speakers would probably say "He's not an intelligent man".

Franke: EFL teacher & medical editor. Native speaker of American.
Dear all, What do you think of the construction "a not unintelligent man"? I know it is not prescriptively approved, ... as native speakers' replies as possible and please reveal the variety of English you speak before providing your valuable opinions.

I would consider it normal if applied correctly. "Not unintelligent" has the meaning "not without intelligence". It's faint praise that indicates some intelligence is acknowledged, but not very much. However, like most English phrases, it can - and is - used ironically. The person that says that "Einstein was not unintelligent" is making the point that he is referring to someone that he considers to be very intelligent. You have to have context to know what we are talking about, and sometimes that doesn't even help.
Also, what about the construction "a not intelligent man"? Is this form as commonly accepted by native speakers as "a not unintelligent man"?

I can't conceive of using it. I would use "not an intelligent man".

My variety of English is garden. My opinion is only debatably valuable.
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What do you think of the construction "a not unintelligent man"?

It's not a compliment. it is, at best a "lefthanded compliment", ie a veiled insult.

Not necessarily. In English English, it may be an
example of litotes with a strongly affirmative sense. That is, it may be read as "a very intelligent man".

R.
Dear all, What do you think of the construction "a not unintelligent man"? I know it is not prescriptively approved, ... as native speakers' replies as possible and please reveal the variety of English you speak before providing your valuable opinions.

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

Don Aitken
Mail to the addresses given in the headers is no longer being read. To mail me, substitute "clara.co.uk" for "freeuk.com".
Dear all, What do you think of the construction "a ... variety of English you speak before providing your valuable opinions.

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 heard unimpeccable on the radio two nights ago. It may even exist:

http://tinyurl.com/2dzfz
Who knows?
R.
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What do you think of the construction "a not unintelligent man"? I know it is not prescriptively approved, but is ... the construction "a not intelligent man"? Is this form as commonly accepted by native speakers as "a not unintelligent man"?

"A not unintelligent man" is alright in BrE providing this type of construction is used only in moderate amounts. Lucky Jim (Kingsley Amis) has a character who overuses this type of double negative, and Amis invites the reader to judge him a pompous prig. I prefer the direct approach to language, which has the additional advantage of saying precisely what I want to say:-
a genius
a highly intelligent person
of above average intelligence
intelligent enough to understand the issue
of average intelligence
etc
"A not unintelligent man" is imprecise because this way of describing the subject includes every possibility from average intelligence up to genius.

If I were an employer, I might try to recruit somebody "of average or above average intelligence". I would not advertise for a "not unintelligent person".
IMPORTANT NOTE: Chambers Ltd operates a fair and transparent recruitment policy. We do not discriminate on grounds of gender, race, religion, language (providing you speak English, Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Irish Gaelic, Cornish, French, German or Spanish), dialect or accent, dress code, political opinions (providing you are not an enemy of the Queen), nationality/immigration status (subject to your being an EU citizen or holding an appropriate EU work permit), previous criminal record (providing at least ten years has expired since your last conviction for a serious crime), physical disability, non-impairing and non-dangerous mental health problems, age, sexual orientation/preferences, marital status, or creed. We welcome applications from all minority groups. We do, however, discriminate on grounds of intelligence and physical strength, but only to the extent that we judge necessary for the applicant to be able to perform his/her duties effectively.
Richard Chambers Leeds UK.
Raymond typed thus:
Dear all, What do you think of the construction "a not unintelligent man"? I know it is not prescriptively approved, ... as native speakers' replies as possible and please reveal the variety of English you speak before providing your valuable opinions.

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.
I find it a very useful construct to convey a shade of meaning which would not be understood from the bald positive. I found myself telling a group of people recently that X was going to happen on a given date, but there was a possibility that it might be late and they would be stuck with the situation before X, for a few weeks. They didn't seem to mind - I asked "So you would not be unhappy if X were delayed for a short while?"
I might use "not unintelligent", but it's unlikely as it is faintly derogatory.
Also, what about the construction "a not intelligent man"? Is this form as commonly accepted by native speakers as "a not unintelligent man"?

No, I wouldn't say that - it's clumsy English. I would say "an unintelligent man". My university friends and I used "not stupid" as a generic term to cover those above the mass of the general public in intelligence, but it was a sort of in-joke and I've only used it in the past 20 years when talking to one of that crowd.

David
==
IMPORTANT NOTE: Chambers Ltd operates a fair and transparent recruitment policy. We do not discriminate on grounds of gender, ... previous criminal record (providing at least ten years has expired since your last conviction for a serious crime) ...

There will, once I get out of here. Can I have the job?
Oliver Cromm
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