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Double-Negative Prefix

Why is it that double-negatives are looked negatively upon, yet we commonly use a double-negative prefix? I’m reffering to my gripe with the word “undisclosed.” Understandabley if, let’s say, documents, were “disclosed” we are using a negative prefix of “dis” on “closed”, here meaning not “open” to the public. So by “disclosing” the documents, we have in essence opened them. So, when we have not opened them, should they not remain “closed” instead of becoming “undisclosed?”

  • February 1, 2007
  • Posted by jme
  • Filed in Grammar

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You can add "un" to any adjective, as I noted in the entry "an unforecasted dilemma".

John February 1, 2007, 5:39am

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Also, there's nothing wrong with some kinds of double negatives in standard English: "not uncommon", "not infrequent".

John February 1, 2007, 5:42am

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The double negative hex came about in English rather late (Renaissance), along with a (to my mind bizarre) notion that Latin was the epitome of languages, and with that notion the idea that negatives work in language the way they work in arithmetic. Older manifestations of English actually intensify negatives as they are added, rather than negating them by adding a second negative. This is the sense that survives in your example, I think: undisclosed is not an exact synonym for closed, but carries with it the notion that whatever it is could have been disclosed, but wasn't.

Steven February 8, 2007, 4:42am

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I think I see the problem here. The word "disclosed" does NOT mean "open". It means "revealed". The opposite of "disclosed" is not "closed", per se, but "unrevealed". Yes, the construction of the word is certainly "dis-" + "closed", but that doesn't mean that the word's meaning is exactly the addition of its components.

Compare the word "disease", literally made up of "dis-" + "ease". It means an illness. It does not mean ill-at-ease, or uneasy, or anything like that. The opposite is (good) health, or wellness, not "ease".

There are many words like this. Perhaps that's why the seeming double negative is OK, because you can't just remove the prefix.

By the way, "dis-" doesn't necessarily mean "not". It can also mean "apart", "away", etc. as in "discourse". I suspect that there are many "dis-" words that are so integrated that people don't think of "dis-" as a prefix for them. I wonder if there's a word to describe that. Dead metaphor comes to mind, but there might be a better word or expression.

porsche February 8, 2007, 9:21am

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I have some problems with some words such as inflammable, invaluable, innumerable, immeasureable. Do the meaning in those words is negative or positive?

Casey May 31, 2007, 9:02pm

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Hey Casey,

To me, words like invaluable, innumerable, and immeasureable make perfect sense. If something is so very huge that it is beyond your means to measure its size, then it is immeasureable. Or if it is so very valuable or so very numerous. As for inflammable, I share your issue with that word, since its apparent opposite--flammable--means exactly the same thing. This leads me to believe that the in- of inflammable is not a negation, but is the same in- of incense, impact, inject, insert, infix, etc. To me, that makes more sense. If something is inflammable, that means it is able to be inflamed. In other words, flame can go into it. Am I right on this?

AO June 3, 2007, 4:31pm

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What does irregardless mean?

amie June 4, 2007, 2:13am

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AO, the prefix "in-" can be either negating (like un-) or intensifying (like en-). Many words can use either in- or en- e.g. entrust/intrust. Interesting that both uses are Latin in origin even though they are contradictory. Also, the word "flammable" is a much newer word than "inflammable".

porsche June 4, 2007, 6:40am

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irregardless means regardful

AO June 4, 2007, 12:49pm

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I really don't think that you can add 'un-' to any adjective... 'unbeautiful'? 'unbad'? 'unyellow'? Please tell me if I am wrong though...

sharniw July 5, 2007, 5:40pm

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'unbeautiful' according to Chambers is a legitimate adjective and Roget's New Millennium Thesaurus lists it as a synonym for 'ugly'.
speaking of 'unbeautiful', does anyone know where I could find its etymology? isn't being very helpful.

camshid December 27, 2007, 9:07pm

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Yes     No