25

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 – Shevliaskovic Nov 25 '15 at 20:53
  • The plugin is not enabled on the site as of now. There's an old meta post talking about it meta.musicfans.stackexchange.com/questions/32/…. We can bring up a new meta post about it with example questions that would benefit like this one. – Dom Nov 26 '15 at 17:47
  • 3
    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. – svick Nov 27 '15 at 12:07
  • 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! – ziggurism Dec 18 '15 at 15:28
  • I think you mean, is it ironic. Yes. It is. – Jason P Sallinger Feb 21 '17 at 21:44
35

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 – Joe Kennedy Nov 25 '15 at 19:37
  • 5
    "You Ain't Nothin' but a Hound Dog". If it were gramatically correct, it would be "You are nothing other than a hound dog." – user546 Nov 25 '15 at 20:17
  • 1
    +1 for rebutting the erroneous notion that "double negative = positive". – ziggurism Dec 18 '15 at 15:29
  • 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? – MoondogsMaDawg Nov 2 '16 at 23:03
16

I've been unable to find any comments directly from Roger Waters (writer of the music and lyrics of the song) on the meaning of those lines. Looking at the lyrics on Genius.com, the annotation for the first line says that if you read it as a double negative, it could mean two different things

  • "We do need education"—A call for education
  • "We don't need this type of education"—A stab at the education the children are getting

Personally, I'd be inclined to disagree with this assessment. I've always thought that it was just slang for "We don't need education", for a few reasons.

First, if you remember the second time they sing through the verse, it's just a bunch of kids singing it; "we don't need no" is absolutely something a school age working class kid with a Cockney accent in England in the 70s might say instead of "we need no" or "we don't need".

Second, either potential meaning of the double negative doesn't really make sense for the second line. "We need thoughts control"? "We don't need this type of thoughts control"? Neither of those make sense, at least to me. And if the second line is not a double negative, then why would the first one be? Furthermore, do children need "dark sarcasm in the classroom"? I don't think so either.

Third, the whole song is a rebellion against the school, and when "Another Brick In the Wall" plays in The Wall film, Pink has a day dream of the children chanting "we don't need no education", destroying the school building with sledgehammers and crowbars, setting it on fire, and dragging the teachers out kicking and screaming. To me, this doesn't say "we need education" or "we need a different type of education", it says "we don't need education at all". I don't know if the call for alternative education is even something a kid of that age would think of; school is the way that it is and Pink hates it.

  • +1 for the in depth analysis --although to be honest I don't think the alternative interpretations even deserve that much consideration. I can't see any native speaker truly entertaining an alternative read of the lyrics, except as a thought experiment. I do see, however, how it could be massively confusing for an ESL speaker who has been taught standard English grammar... – Chris Sunami Nov 25 '15 at 21:11
  • Yeah that's an excellent point. I guess I included the alternative interpretations for completeness, though I agree that they don't deserve much consideration. The biggest reason I did include them is that the explanation I linked has 25 upvotes, and usually Genius is pretty accurate with their assessments of lyrics. – Joe Kennedy Nov 25 '15 at 21:23
3

For some reason, I was thinking about education while making a song and Pink Floyd song came to my mind.

Try to sing:

We do need an education

It doesn't sound as good as.

We don't need no education

is packs a punch and is more provocative

Sometimes when you make a song, the melody doesn't fit the words and sometimes the words don't fit the melody, so you have to rearrange and find words to fit the melody or make a compromise.

That's why a song can be want you want to hear or not what you want to hear.

And we DO need an education. Otherwise we will be left behind those who chose to get an education.

P.S.

Very interesting thoughts you came up with by the way, I'm just another "besserwisser"

2

'We dont need no...' is commonly used in London for 'we don't need any'. its simple. Note that the lyric is not 'we don't need no learning'. The point is that an inner city London school in the 70s was often not about learning but about 'schooling'

1

Maybe it's just omitted punctuation in the lyrics readable form (we don't need, no, education / we don't need -no!- thought control), as emphasazing the negative statement. That also makes sense rhythmically

1

Anyone who's lived in London where they speak Cockney, as in this song, knows very well that "we don't need no" means we don't need any. I grew up there, so seeing all these questions and analysis is actually quite funny. No Londoner would ever ask this question.

protected by Chris Sunami Mar 9 '18 at 19:13

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.