It looks increasingly unlikely that most of Western Europe will see a white Christmas this year, as the warm spell continues to the year’s end. But this post isn’t about Christmas, it is about a small language thing that has been bugging me every time I see it, though I never remember to note down the examples I see.
It is quite clear that “all Christmases are white” is a false statement. How would you negate it? I would say “not all Christmases are white”, i.e. that some are indeed snowy, but there are instances that are not. What bugs me is the usage “all Christmases are not white”. To me, that means that Christmas is never a snowy day, without exception. Stated like this, it is clear what the problem is, but nonetheless people do use the second formulation. Here is where I wish I kept better notes and had some real examples to show. It is usually clear from the context when “all… not” is written and “not all” is meant, but it always sets off a dissonance in my head.
Is it just me? Here is a reminder to myself to write it down the next time I see such a misnegation.