A Poem You Won’t Never Forget

4

Love and grammar

The poem below is by James Harbeck, who runs the word-blog Sesquiotica. It ‘s out of a book he wrote called Songs of Love and Grammar.

In order to understand the end of the poem, I should probably explain what he means by “negative concord.”

In English, we create confusion by the use of double negatives (or, double negation). We might hear someone say, “I don’t want no trouble,” and we know that he means “I don’t want any trouble,” but in a legal, grammatically technical sense, the sentence is the equivalent of “I do want trouble,” because the one negative cancels out the other.

In many languages, however, such a construction would be perfectly fine. These languages would view this sentence as essentially negative in meaning, so they use multiple negatives to emphasize the negativity. They call this “negative concord,” meaning the negatives are all in concord, or agreement, with the negative meaning of the sentence.

But in English, if someone tells you she “don’t want none of your money,” what does she really mean?

Don’t tell me no lies

I met a little lady from way down south
and I thought she was kinda sweet.
She had a tasty tongue in a cowgirl mouth
that said things you’d wanna repeat.

“I don’t never go for that city stuff –
I like my drinks and men smooth and hard.”
And I said, “Won’t you leave me when you’ve had enough?”
And she said, handing back my credit card,

“I don’t want none of your money, sweet,
I don’t care for no one but you.
I don’t know nothin’ ’bout how to cheat –
that ain’t nothin’ I’d wanna do.”

We had a little drink and we had a little dance
and we painted lots of red on the town,
and pretty soon we had ourselves a fine romance
and I took her out shopping for a gown.

Oh, I bought her a ring, and I bought her a home,
and I got her set up nice and neat.
But sometimes I’d worry she would use me and roam,
and whenever I did, she’d repeat,

“I don’t want none of your money, sweet,
I don’t care for no one but you.

I don’t know nothin’ ’bout how to cheat –
that ain’t nothin’ I’d wanna do.”

So now why am I sittin’ with my head hangin’ low
with nothin’ left, not even pride,
wonderin’ where my sweetheart and my money did go
and how I got took for a ride?

My gal was a master of verbal predation,
a lawyer who took her reward –
she tripped up my ears with double negation
that I thought was negative concord:

“I don’t want none of your money, sweet,
I don’t care for no one but you.
I don’t know nothin’ ’bout how to cheat –
that ain’t nothin’ I’d wanna do.”

*****

Comments? Suggestions? Questions? Credit Card information? Feel free to leave them below.

(Just kidding about the credit card information)

About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Shalini Paul
    Shalini Paul09-18-2016

    Hi! I loved this poem and recently used negative concord to emphasize two lovers who did not want to part!
    ‘ never wanting to part no more’
    I also use a lot of, don’t, won’t,etc words and also words like gonna, wanna, and wonder if they are accepted as real words or do they reduce the class of poetry ?
    will appreciate your advice!
    Regards.

  2. CFloyd
    CFloyd09-26-2012

    HAHAHAHA – that is great!! Hey, I know people who seem to live a life of negative concord… 🙂

    • CFloyd
      CFloyd09-26-2012

      Sorry – I mean to say also – this should be a country song! Brad Paisley wouldn’t do it no justice.

      • Brian Wasko
        Brian Wasko09-26-2012

        The author says that a friend is working on putting it to music. Definitely a country song.

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