Monday, 9 November 2009

How to say "No"

I was talking to someone from  the Netherlands yesterday, about learning languages.  Without getting into the discussion on whether or not the English language has the largest  number of words (common words? what is a word? whose count?), my friend said he loved the diversity of English as a language, its nuances, its shades of meaning.

He had already lived for a year in London (and a fluent English speaker) when his company insisted that he attended English lessons, three days a week, two hours per lesson.  The first two weeks were concerned solely with how to say no, and how to interpret variations on saying no.  He explained to me that in Dutch, if they want to say "no", they say "nee", but you can't depend on an English speaker to do that:

Would you like a drink?

I wouldn't.
Not at the moment.
Perhaps later.
A nice idea but....
I'd rather not.
Thank you, but....

Are you coming to the xxx ?

I have a lot on at the moment.
I'll have to see if I can fit it in.
Could you ask me closer to the time?
It clashes with....
It certainly sounds interesting...
I'd love to but....

And so on.  the idea fascinates me.  How many ways are there to say no?
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  1. A Poem........
    A Englishman & No
    is a bit like
    An Eskimo & Snow

  2. I like your poem, Tony. :) I was trying to remember who it was that had all the words for snow, but I was moving in the direction of Finland.

  3. There are so many ways to say No yet unless you actually say NO you are just beating around the bush. No is very difficult for some to utter yet it is definitive and will not incite more questions. Great post.

  4. I think you found all the ways here to say NO! Nothing does the job like actually saying it though!

  5. I'm not sure if this will be helpful, but there must be 50 ways to leave your lover.

  6. Talking about Paul Simon. But you knew that. :)

    Just slip out the back, Jack
    Make a new plan, Stan
    Don't need to be coy, Roy
    Hop on the bus, Gus
    Just drop off the key, Lee
    And get yourself free...

    I'll stop now.

  7. If there is one word I have never gotten through my throat, that's the one. YUP.

  8. I'm really not sure
    great post tho
    on the other hand
    I know I can say no

  9. I know a liot of lassies that can say "NO!"

    Arabs, because of 'politeness' cannot say 'No,' they might say 'yes,' and not do it mind.

  10. hi.. just dropping by here... have a nice day!

  11. There is one situation coming up, where I know I'd like to say no and I am wondering's a matter of not hurting somebody's feelings...

  12. I wish I knew, but I do not kNOw.

    Thanks, though, A. A pretty thought-provoking post.

  13. Hi A. --

    Your post got me thinking of the word for "no" in other languages... and realizing that in Bahasa Malaysia, "no" and "not" appear synonymous (with both "tidak" and "bukan" being used to mean both in different circumstances)! :O

  14. There is only one way to say no and I think people need to say it more often! Too much beating around the bush.

  15. Thank you, all of you, for your thoughts. I do appreciate your comments.

    I once read a book, "That's Not What I Meant", I think, which maintained that there are two types of people - those who say exactly what they mean and others who approach subjects at more of a tangent. I don't believe it maintained one way was better than the other, but stressed the necessity of realising how the other half lives.

    It seems I have both types of people commenting (plus a couple of poets!), with some advocating the use of "No" plain and simple. But I wasn't really concerned with the possibilities of ambiguity, more with the variety of ways people can express themselves. The richness of the language, if you like, was what my friend was delighting in. No on its own leaves no room for shades of meaning, and there could legitimately be reason.

    YTSL, the thought of "no" and "not" being interchangeable seems like something of a nightmare!

  16. A., The idea of diversity in refusing in the English Language is quiet interesting and reminds me with the diversity we have in the Arabic Language, too. It seems people find their way to cope with the situation to make a refusal!

  17. Mmn, wish someone would teach me how - am the proverbial blue posteriored fly! My response is either yes of course or the rudest possible variant of not on your nelly

  18. Probably English people tend to say no in so many ways because they want to seem polite and not to be strict by simply saying no.
    And, I agree that the language is really diverse, too.


Forethoughts, afterthoughts, any thoughts. Tell me.


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