can't hardly

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boozer

Senior Member
Bulgarian
hellow, friends,

This is the second time I notice this turn of phrase in Tom Clancy's "The Bear and the Dragon". It goes like this:

Like going to a Vegas casino when you're able to read the cards halfway through the deck. You just can't hardly lose this way.

I haven't checked many dictionaries but the ones I checked did not have similar examples. I find this use quite strange. In fact, I would have considered it a simple grammar error if I had seen it in a student's essay. :) But since this is not the case, I wonder how frequent it is. I also wonder if this is not some deliberately slangy double negative not dissimilar to 'I don't see nobody'. I also wonder if this is an American thing only... For my part, I just scoffed at it when I saw it for the second time (the first time I thought it was a typo or something...) But then I started thinking about it and now I simply don't know what to make of it (although the meaning is crystal clear).
 
  • Franco-filly

    Senior Member
    English - Southern England
    It's very odd to me. If you can't hardly lose I would expect it to mean you can very well lose but, as I think you are suggesting, it would seem to mean you can only win :rolleyes:
     

    Florentia52

    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    "Can't hardly" is common in AE, either as a "deliberately slangy double negative" or simply as ungrammatical speech.
     

    ESustad

    Senior Member
    English - (Minnesota)
    It's a nonstandard double negative in AE, one you hear fairly often. Similar to phrases like "I could care less" (expressing that one doesn't care), logically it means the opposite of what the speaker intends. In this case, "can't hardly lose" means it would be very difficult to lose.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Hollo, Mr B;) It doesn't surprise me to see it (I've seen far weirder stuff than that) ~ but at the same time it doesn't ring any BE-bells for me:)
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    But it is a little reminiscent of "I shouldn't be surprised if it didn't rain".[/COLOR]
    Oh yes, it's reminiscent of various oddities, SRK, hence my lack of surprise:thumbsup: ~ I just meant that I can't picture that particular combination [can't + hardly] in BE:)
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Hollo, E (since you appear to favour 'hollo' over 'hullo' now),

    I distinctly remember kicking myself for preceding 'hardly' with a verb in the negative in a moment of tiredness/sloppiness/I don't know what, a couple of weeks ago :eek:. I don't think there's been a recurrence.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    in a moment of tiredness/sloppiness/I don't know what :eek:...
    Hallo, Mr. SS and Hollo, Mr. E. :)
    Thank you for your comments, entertaining as usual :) I have also heard and said weirder stuff, especially after the 17th shot of home-made brandy - the problem is that I was reading the book comparatively, if not completely, sober. :D

    I was thinking - how interesting, the sentence would mean the same whether or not one keeps that 'not' in 'can't'...
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    In Charles Dickens' Dombey and Son he uses the expression to good effect. Mr. Dombey is hiring a nursemaid for his son and he asks her whether she has any children of her own. She tells him she has five. He says, "Why, it's as much as you can afford to keep them!" and she replies, "I couldn't hardly afford but one thing in the world less, Sir" - "What is that?" - "To lose 'em, Sir."

    Her reply is difficult to disentangle, but the meaning is clearly that, although she can hardly afford to keep them, it would be even more difficult for her to have to part with them.

    I think it's likely that Dickens means it as typical London uneducated speech.
     
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