Apr 17, 2012, 4:00 PM EST
The meaning of the phrase turns on its context. See Johnson v. United States, 559 U. S. ___, ___ (2010) (slip op., at 5) (“Ultimately, context determines meaning”). “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) …
That’s Justice Kagan writing, by the way. She was born in 1960 in New York, so there’s a decent chance that she’s a pessimistic Mets fan. She apparently also missed Ike Davis going yard last night, but we’ll chalk that up to an oversight by the law clerk.
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