History of ‘Can Neither Confirm Nor Deny’

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Glomar-ExplorerI’ve probably read or heard the phrase “can neither confirm nor deny” umpteen zillion times when someone in government is being asked about a certain painfully obvious secret operation or unwanted development.

The phrase has now been dubbed “a non-denial denial,” an artful dodge when one is caught with one’s pants down. “I can neither confirm nor deny that I’m standing here half-naked” sounds good but doesn’t quite click with the visual reality, kind of like when it’s used by government spokespersons denying clandestine operations that are all over the news.

Anyway, this phrase dates back to 1974 when a vessel named the Glomar Explorer attempted to raise a sunken Soviet submarine in the Atlantic. Actually, not only attempted, but evidently succeeded as it turns out. However, when asked about the operation, the folks in charge said they could “neither confirm nor deny” any such thing was under way.

So the phrase now goes by the moniker of “The Glomar Response.”

You can read the fantastic story behind both the submarine retrieval and the phrase itself on the Radiolab website, in an article titled appropriately “Neither Confirm Nor Deny.”

Categories: Grammar Notes

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