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P. 7 from Who Rules The World? By Noam Chomsky.


Meanwhile, scarcely a day passes without new reports of ominous scientific
discoveries about the pace of environmental destruction. It is not too comforting to read that “in the middle latitudes of the Northern hemisphere, average temperatures are increasing at a rate that is equivalent to moving south about 10 meters (30 feet) each day,” a rate “about 100 times faster than most climate change that we can observe in the geological record”—and perhaps 1,000 times faster, according to other technical studies.

Is the part highlighted mean the same as (it is not comforting)? what is the purpose of (too)? Does it change the meaning when added to (it is not comforting)?

Original Post

Is there a way or a clue that can help me know whether (too) functions as (very) as in the sentence above or it functions as in the sentence below?

The box is too heavy to lift.

Well, Izzy, the key is to be sensitive to the context.

First, there is the syntactic context. If you don't find an infinitival clause related to "too + [adjective]," then there is a good chance that "too" functions like "very." Whereas "to lift" does relate to "too heavy" in "The box is too heavy to lift" (the sentence means "The box is so heavy that it can't be lifted"), "to read that . . ." does not have anything to do with "too comforting" in Chomsky's sentence. The infinitival clause in his sentence is an extraposed subject, the sentence being equivalent to "To read that '. . .' is not to comforting."

Second, there is the semantic context taken apart from the syntax. If you find yourself stumped, you should ask yourself (at least in this case) whether Chomsky is likely to have meant that something was not so comforting that a certain consequence relates to its being so comforting, or whether he is likely to have meant that something was just not really comforting. If you find the one meaning almost inconceivable or absurd, there is a very good chance that the author did not intend for the reader to interpret it that way.

Last edited by David, Moderator

One more question.

Why is (too) used as in Chomsky's sentence though (very) is readily available? When is (too) preferred to be used in lieu of  (very)?

The nuance that "too" carries here, which "very" does not, is one of excess or overabundance. Thus, one could say, "Don't be too surprised if you find a linguistics article by Chomsky hard to understand."

You are not waiting for a infinitival of result related to "too" (What would that even be? "Too surprised to focus on the article"?) Thus, we know that the infinitival is related to "very." But it carries that nuance of excess.

"Too surprised" in my example could be paraphrased "unduly surprised." In your example, Chomsky is using overstatement for rhetorical effect. What he is talking about is not comforting at all, much less excessively comforting.

Last edited by David, Moderator

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