H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
shows, that he was going as far as the coast and no further. Only gets into many other examples, e. g., he hadnt only the one pass, I cant stay only a minute, and I dont work nights no more, only except Sunday nights. This last I got from a car conductor. Many other curious specimens are in my collectanea, among them: one swaller dont make no summer, I never seen nothing I would of rather saw, and once a child gets burnt once it wont never stick its hand in no fire no more, and so on. The last embodies a triple negative. In You dont know nobody what dont want nobody to do nothing for em, do you? there is a quadruplet. And in the more faster you go, the sooner you dont get there, there is a muddling that almost defies analysis.
Like most other examples of bad grammar encountered in American the compound negative is of great antiquity and was once quite respectable. The student of Anglo-Saxon encounters it constantly. In that language the negative of the verb was formed by prefixing a particle, ne. Thus, singan (=to sing) became ne singan (=not to sing). In case the verb began with a vowel the ne dropped its e and was combined with the verb, as in noefre (never), from ne-oefre (=not ever). In case the verb began with an h or a w followed by a vowel, the h or w of the verb and the e of ne were both dropped, as in noefth (=has not), from ne-hoefth (=not has), and nolde (=would not), from ne-wolde. Finally, in case the vowel following a w was an i, it changed to y, as in nyste (=knew not), from ne-wiste. But inasmuch as Anglo-Saxon was a fully inflected language the inflections for the negative did not stop with the verbs; the indefinite article, the indefinite pronoun and even some of the nouns were also inflected, and survivors of those forms appear to this day in such words as none and nothing. Moreover, when an actual inflection was impossible it was the practise to insert this ne before a word, in the sense of our no or not. Still more, it came to be the practise to reinforce ne, before a vowel, with na (=not) or naht (=nothing), which later degenerated to nat and not. As a result, there were fearful and wonderful combinations of negatives, some of them fully matching the best efforts of Lardners baseball players. Sweet gives several curious examples.97 Nan ne dorste