1- I am all that you deign not to look at when you walk down the street at night.

I saw this sentence above in a movie. Is there a difference between sentence 1 and 2 ?

2- I am all that you don't deign to look at when you walk down the street at night.


They are different meanings and the first sentence is probably incorrect.

The meaning of deign is similar to agree.


: to condescend reluctantly and with a strong sense of the affront to one's superiority that is involved


We can clearly see that "agree not to look" and "do not agree to look" have very different meanings.

"I don't want you to look at me while I'm undressing. Do you promise not to look?"
"Yes, I agree not to look."

"I want you to look at this painting I made. Will you look at it?"
"No, I do not agree to look."

If we ask, "do you deign to look at me?" the question means will you look at me, even though you think you're too good to do so. The answer could be "Yes, I deign to look at you," which would mean I agree to look at you, even though I think it's beneath me; or "No, I do not deign to look at you," which would mean I do not agree to look at you - it is indeed too far beneath me.

If we ask, "do you deign to not look at me"...well, it's not clear what exactly this would mean. It is unusual to condescend not to do something. Perhaps it could make sense with some other action: perhaps it's impolite to question a superior, even when they say something unreasonable. Then, perhaps an inferior could say to his superior, "Would you deign to not question me?" It's a stretch.

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This question depends on whether or not deign is archaic!

I once was curious about whether and how Shakespeare used auxiliary do, and searched for it in the Gutenberg Project text of one of his plays (Henry IV maybe). I found it in the prose passages (spoken by commoners) and not in the verse passages (spoken by nobles). Where a commoner would say “Did she go to the town? She did not go,” a noble would say “Went she to the town? She went not.”

Thus, where ordinary modern usage would have do, a construction lacking do is marked as archaic and ‘fancy’.

Sentence 2 says, in effect, “I am beneath your notice”; you do not give me the courtesy of looking at me. Sentence 1 is puzzling: how is it an act of courtesy to not look at me? Well, there is a way out: if the word deign is itself marked archaic enough to be used only in non-do constructions, then the two sentences mean the same.

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  • Do I need to explain the linguistic concept of markedness? – Anton Sherwood Aug 30 '19 at 22:07

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