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Expert reaction: Trump's double negative

Posted on 20 July 2018

An expert on the analysis of political speeches and interviews comments on Donald Trump's assertion that he intended to use a double negative at a press conference with Vladimir Putin.


Dr Peter Bull, from the University of York’s Department of Psychology, said: “In the analysis of political speeches, a number of rhetorical devices have been identified whereby a speaker invites applause from the audience.


“In one of these, termed the ‘headline-punchline’, the speaker proposes to make a declaration, pledge or announcement and then proceeds to make it. The speaker might use headline phrases such as ‘I’ll tell you what makes it worthwhile...’, ‘And I’ll say why...'. The applaudable part of the message (the punchline) then follows, which the speaker has emphasised by calling attention in advance to what is about to be said.


“Of course, President Trump’s celebrated remark about possible Russian interference in the US presidential election occurred not in a speech but in response to a question from a journalist. Nevertheless, the remark can still be seen to take the form of a headline-punchline device.  ‘I will say this (HEADLINE) I don’t see any reason why it would be’ (PUNCHLINE).

"Trump’s subsequent claim that he meant to say 'I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia' seems implausible in the context of this rhetoric, in that punchlines are typically, clear, simple and straightforward, and unlikely to take the form of convoluted double negatives.”

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