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When ‘no’ means ‘yes’

September 10, 2017

Watching the post-match interview on Match of the Day last night, after Tottenham Hotspur’s fine win over Everton, I was struck by a curious response Harry Kane said in response to a question from Gary Lineker, viz:

LINEKER: It must be a relief to get your first goal of the season.

KANE: No, definitely, it’s good to get off the mark…

I quote from memory but the first two words of Kane’s response are exact. He was agreeing with the proposition put by Lineker, and signalled this by saying no. As stand-up comedians like to say, what’s that all about?

In fact Kane used no in this way several times during the interview, and I began to realise I’ve actually heard it quite a lot, without being consciously aware of it. Certainly I had no problem understanding what Kane meant by it. But why use no to mean yeah, that’s right? Perhaps it is a way of suggesting modesty or diffidence?

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10 Comments
  1. Spiritman permalink

    A conversation contains more than just the surface meaning indicated by the words and manner of speech employed. Owing to the participants’ shared understanding of the prevailing context, the conversation often also contains underlying meanings and implications that can be inferred.

    On occasion, a secondary meaning is so palpable that the less-educated listener feels compelled to address it directly. This causes them to respond to two threads in the conversation simultaneously, leading to the seemingly illogical “yes, no” response.

    As an Arsenal supporter, though, I must say I’m surprised you understood him at all, considering how much he spits when he talks. 😉

  2. Simon Carter permalink

    During the Barcelona match yesterday the commentator referred to how the referee “turned a deaf ear” to a penalty claim “and also a deaf eye” which on first hearing looks daft and on second look sounds it too.

  3. Simon Carter permalink

    Wasn’t me Brandon! Although I do think he’d be short odds favourite in a village idiot competition.
    The yes/no phenomenon, particularly among sportsmen, has been mentioned before and has changed slightly from “yeah, but no” to just “yeah, no”. It’s amazing how often questions are answered this way; it’s replaced “you know” for everyone except David Beckham.

  4. I noticed that. I understood what he was saying and then realised he was saying the opposite of what me meant. I often say the opposite of what I mean but I am being sarcastic. He is a really talented footballer – but I somehow can’t see his English language skills extending to sarcasm or irony

  5. Mark Brafield permalink

    The ‘Yes / No’ response was brilliantly captured in W1A in the character of Ian Fletcher played by Hugh Bonneville who answered every question in this way until you were not sure which word was affirmative and which …not. And I have a friend who is rather socially awkward who uses ‘Yes’ as a conversational transition in order to try and start a totally unrelated subject, as if to say ‘Yes, that’s right, as you were saying’ …when in fact I never said any such thing.

  6. Simon Carter permalink

    Another habit some people have is greeting every statement or opinion with “absolutely” as though their endorsement were the ultimate validation. The temptation is to say the daftest things possible to test their commitment to agreeing with everything.

  7. Simon Carter permalink

    Walked into that one! That deserves a James Finlayson double take and fade away.

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