Just enough negation to fail to confuse

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/07/01 22:19 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2006/07/01/653971.aspx

Maybe I am crazy, but I had no problem parsing this cartooon Heidi posted.

Admittedly, I could be mistaken. :-)

The sentence:

There's only one thing to remember...
..you're never too bad to come in...
...and you're never too good to stay out.

We'll ignore for a moment that there are appaarently two things to remember (or maybe even three if you have to remember that the Rev. Croom can't count, which could be important if you are listening to the Sunday morning sermon and he is moving from thirdly to fourthly!).

Heidi was definitely focused on those next two pieces of the sentence.

To me, the first part is about how there is nothing that you can do that is so awful that you would be shut out.  Easy.

Extra, snarky comment: This is obviously a pretty common sentiment that churches would communicate, although I am sure that any kind of situation that has a bit of a dress code (be it temple, church, synagogue, mosque, or meeting house) might cause there to be a bit of silent and not-so-silent judgment if someone came in while wearing a bathing suit or shorts or whatever. And it is hard to believe that if outward signs can make such a difference that inward feelings could not block a person from coming.

And again to me, the second part is about how there is nobody who is so good that they should decide to sleep in and miss showing up.

Extra, snarky comment: A slightly less common sentiment, and one that I think is if anything even less fully believed than the first one. There would not be expressions like Jack mormons or two-day Jews if there was not such a huge contingent of people who do not feel any sense of need to be following all the rules and showing up for every service. I would argue that most people feel that they are good enough that they do not need to go.

Perhaps the sentence would have been more comfortable had it been phrased:

There's only two things to remember...
..you're never too bad to come in...
...and you're never so good that you should stay out.

But then you'd lose that nice rhythm that "to come in" and "to stay out" give us, and after all there is only so much room in a comic strip.

Of course the fact that the Reverend can't count would make me nervous about his sermons. It isn't like Spanish Inquistion that has Monty Python players thinking of new reasons every time they state their immutable principles that requiring them to be muted! :-)


This post brought to you by (U+17a6, a.k.a. KHMER INDEPENDENT VOWEL QII)

# Maurits [MSFT] on 1 Jul 2006 11:21 PM:

I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition!

I found this little chestnut a lot harder to parse:
"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve" - Bilbo Baggins

# Michael S. Kaplan on 1 Jul 2006 11:59 PM:

I always undestood that particular one from under the party tree, Maurits. :-)

(Saw your name in the address book the other day, by the way -- awesome!)

# Gabe on 2 Jul 2006 5:53 AM:

What's a "two-day Jew"? I've never heard of one, and neither has Google. It has just a single document, returned at different URLs, for the plural form you use.

And the term "Jack Mormon" actually would exist even if all church members attended regularly, because the term originally meant those whom were not Mormons, but sympathized with them (i.e. refused to persecute them). A Nazi might by analogy have used the term "Jack Jews" to refer to the people that hid Anne Frank, for example.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 2 Jul 2006 9:13 AM:

A two-day Jew is one who only ever goes to temple on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

The only context I have ever heard Jack mormom used is by LDS members referring to members who only walked the walk and talked the talk while others were watching....

# Michael S. Kaplan on 2 Jul 2006 9:30 AM:

Hi Gabe, I have also heard the term "Twice-a-year Jew" used there too (analagous to the same term used regarding Christians who only go to church on Christmas and Easter).....

# Lance on 3 Jul 2006 3:52 PM:

With respect to your latter snarky comment: you're right that plenty of people do believe they're good enough that they don't need to come to church; but the Reverend doesn't believe that, which is why it bears him saying it.

In any case, you're absolutely right that what we're going for is "you're never so good that you should stay out."  But that's just not a meaning of "never too good to stay out".  If it were, I should be able to say "I'm too tired to sleep" to mean "I'm so tired that I should sleep".  But "too X to Y" simply doesn't mean "should Y (because of X)", it means "can't Y (because of X)".

So yes, it's clear to me (and you, and Heidi) what the Reverend meant.  But I still don't think the sentence meant what the Reverend was trying to say.

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