Wednesday, 13 January 2010


It's a crying shame that David Miliband didn't become Prime Minister last week. There's an interview with him in today's Times in which he begins by saying:

I'm not going to plead not guilty to the charge of thinking

Reading it I found myself all nostalgic for John Major, the greatest British practitioner of litotes, which is asserting something by denying its opposite. (There's a persistent myth among the lower orders of society that litotes is simply a posh Greek way of saying understatement. It is not. If you desperately want a posh Greek way of saying understatement you can make do with meiosis or a noose). For those of you too young, too senile or too foreign to remember John Major there is a helpful biography of him called Not Inconsiderable.

It's also worth noting that litotes is not necessarily a double negative. Puttenham gives the example "I know you hate me not", meaning you love me.

I believe that with David Miliband we have a chance to return to the moral certainties and linguistic bewilderment of the Major years. The second line of his interview went like this:

I think it's quite important to think. In fact, I think that thinking is...

A busy day at the foreign office

1 comment:

  1. Just as well we don't have Donald Rumsfeld in the Labour Cabinet - imagine trying to decipher this one. "Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - - the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones."