Is the double negative in 'we don't need no education' intentional?

  • The famous Pink Floyd Song Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) uses double negative in the chorus:

    We don't need no education
    We dont need no thought control
    ...

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34ZmKbe5oG4

    Using double negation in the above lyrics implies that we need both education and thought control.

    Is this some mistake they made when writing the lyrics (since this is a really common mistake that a lot of people actually make) or did Pink Floyd used these phrases willingly?

    I can't get the youtube link to show for some reason

    The plugin is not enabled on the site as of now. There's an old meta post talking about it http://meta.musicfans.stackexchange.com/questions/32/requesting-automatic-embedding-of-youtube-and-sound-cloud-links. We can bring up a new meta post about it with example questions that would benefit like this one.

    As a non-native speaker, I always thought it was irony: we say we don't need education, yet our incorrect grammar clearly shows that we do.

    Just because something isn't "the King's English" doesn't mean it's a mistake. How can it be a mistake if it's a common part of the language? The only mistake here is the assumption that double negative = positive!

    I think you mean, is it ironic. Yes. It is.

  • This is quite certainly intentional. While the double negative used as an intensified negative is considered ungrammatical in "standard" English, it is very common in many English dialects, particularly those associated with lower socioeconomic class levels (see my answer to a similar question in ELU).

    Song lyrics are typically written in conversational English, not formal English, so non-standard and ungrammatical constructions are more the rule than the exception. Ungrammatical lyrics are often more memorable, and can seem more immediate, intimate and powerful. Compare "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet," and "I Don't Wanna Hurt No More," for similar examples.

    It's also worth noting that the standard English usage of the double negative to mean a positive is rare, because it is confusing, and therefore avoided by most careful speakers.

    Good point about the other songs with double negative, I didn't even think of that! +1

    "You Ain't Nothin' but a Hound Dog". If it were gramatically correct, it would be "You are nothing other than a hound dog."

    +1 for rebutting the erroneous notion that "double negative = positive".

    They are also utilizing a high level of irony here. The juxtaposition of the expected informal English lyric and the subject matter of school teaching formal English compounds the effect of the listener's confusion. Are they ignorant of their mistake, or are they correct since I understand what they mean despite their mistake?

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM