Truth be told, the answer to the general question “What does ‘not an’ mean?” is “It depends”: The meaning of the phrase turns on its context. . . . “Not an” sometimes means “not any,” in the way Novo claims. If your spouse tells you he is late because he “did not take a cab,” you will infer that he took no cab at all (but took the bus instead). If your child admits that she “did not read a book all summer,” you will surmise that she did not read any book (but went to the movies a lot). And if a sports-fan friend bemoans that “the New York Mets do not have a chance of winning the World Series,” you will gather that the team has no chance whatsoever (because they have no hitting). But now stop a moment. Suppose your spouse tells you that he got lost because he “did not make a turn.” You would understand that he failed to make a particular turn, not that he drove from the outset in a straight line. Suppose your child explains her mediocre grade on a college exam by saying that she “did not read an assigned text.” You would infer that she failed to read a specific book, not that she read nothing at all on the syllabus. And suppose a lawyer friend laments that in her last trial, she “did not prove an element of the offense.” You would grasp that she is speaking not of all the elements, but of a particular one. The examples could go on and on, but the point is simple enough: When it comes to the meaning of “not an,” context matters.
OK, first of all this is like the dumbest f@#$ing thing I have ever read. And I get that half of you are lawyers and there’s probably some legal reason why the distinctions in possible implied meanings of “not an” needs to be detailed in such thorough fashion, but c’mon. This case really made it to the Supreme Court without anyone hashing that out? There’s no legal precedent she can cite that covers how sometimes “not an” means not any and sometimes it means not one specific thing? This is what Supreme Court Justices do?
Second, after she gives two perfectly apt examples of what she’s talking about, she throws in a totally unnecessary joke about the Mets. And I’m all for lightening the mood at Supreme Court proceedings, but, again: c’mon. Stale, and too easy. Jokes about the Mets for people who can’t make lawyer jokes are like lawyer jokes for everyone else.
Moreover, Kagan’s a Mets fan, so you’d hope she’d have a little better sense of what she was talking about. DOES THE SUPREME COURT NOT CARE ABOUT ACCURACY ANYMORE? Hitting is the one thing the Mets do have!
If she said “the team has no chance whatsoever (because they [sic] have first basemen at four positions, shaky starting pitching and play in a tough division),” then she’d get a pass, a frustrated but reasonable fan airing her grievances wherever she finds a platform. But no. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan thinks the Mets can’t hit even though the Mets can hit. And I’m just going to go ahead and assume she retires to her quarters to call WFAN to demand the Mets trade David Wright.
Let’s hope The People vs. Carlos Beltran never goes to the highest federal court because I suspect Kagan’s going to rule on the wrong side of that one.