One of his faults wasn't nosiness

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Senior Member
Scotland, English
I came across this construction in Lionel Shriver’s ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’. It made me do a double-take at the time, and I began to think it was just a slip of the pen.

I'm sorry I can't quote the text verbatim, because I no longer have the book, but the gist is as follows:

Our neighbourhood had many faults, but one of them wasn’t nosiness.” (1)

My first reaction was: this is upside down. The writer clearly meant to say:

Our neighbourhood had many faults, but nosiness wasn’t one of them.” (2)

Then I found it again in David Ebershoff’s ‘The 19th Wife’ (Again, I'm sorry I can't quote it exactly) and began to wonder if it is a common usage after all.

Is it a BE/AE thing?
  • Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    This structure is common in the positive direction:

    "Our neighborhood* had many faults, and one of them was noise."

    People sometimes take this structure and turn it around into the negative direction, as in this example: substituting "but" for "and," "wasn't" for "was," and adding whatever characteristic the subject of the sentence did not have. It's a somewhat humorous stylistic device.

    *AE spelling. BE would be "neighbourhood." However, added in edit: I'm told that "humorous" (later in my post) is the same in both, even though AE uses "humor" and BE uses "humour." Go figure.
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