Q: My manager asked me to organize our company’s Thanksgiving Cornucopia Raffle, but when she saw the email I sent to the employees she got angry and started sputtering about terrible grammar. All I wrote was: You can’t not buy raffle tickets! What did I do wrong?
A: Your manager was upset because she was seeing double. Double negatives, to be exact. Double negatives are troublesome. First, it takes extra work for our brains to untangle their meaning. Second, when two forms of negation are used in the same sentence, they cancel each other out, thus reversing the meaning. So your email did not promote the Cornucopia Raffle effectively.
Next time, use only one negative word in any sentence. Let the song “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” be your guide. This song says the key to happiness is to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. It’s good advice for living well and writing well.
Trivia: The song “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” was published in 1944 and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song for Bing Crosby’s 1945 movie, Here Come the Waves. When the song was released, America was fighting World War II. Times were hard. Although the Academy Award went to “It Might as Well Be Spring” from State Fair, the song’s message still stands.