Yes AND no

Posted by Smokey Stover on December 10, 2004

In Reply to: Yes AND no posted by Smokey Stover on December 10, 2004

: : : : There has been some discussion lately in Australia re the use of 'yes no' in sentences. Usually they begin the sentences this way.

: : : : Here's an example of how it goes: "I heard you did well in your exams last week?" "Yes no, it was a tough one, but I got through."

: : : : The talk here is that this is purely an Australian idiosyncrasy. Is that correct?

: : : : It is definitely a peculiar thing and I often hear replies to questions answered this way. There was a long debate over why, a few weeks ago, and the suggestion was that when people are answering the question, they're having a debate in their own minds. eg. In the case of the example above that I provided, the person is thinking, well, yes, I did well, but no, not as well as I would have liked cos it was a tough exam. And somehow that translates into one of those strange 'yes no' responses.

: : : : So, after all that, my question is: Is this really just an Australian thing, or do people elsewhere say this too? --GODDESS

: : : Not only Australian.

: : : Exactly the same is found in southern Africa, in the form Yah no, . . . used among all social classes including the educated elite, and its listed in one of the larger Oxford dictionaries: Ive been searching in vain for the title and if anyone can help . . .its the authority on regional and subregional dialects across the word, organized by region and country, and I think its something like the Oxford Dictionary of International English/Commonwealth English . . .. It's an introductory filler phrase, or attention-getter, like "Well, . . ." usually followed by a slight pause and does indeed imply that the speaker is giving some thought to what they will say. Does not require a preceding question.

: : In the States you will find "Yes and no" used exactly the same way. In speech the "and" is often almost entirely elided or slurred with the "n" of "no" until it's barely discernable. All that's left is a lengthening of the "nnn" sound. Nevertheless, in writing, the phrase is almost universally rendered "yes and no" regardless.

: : It looks to me as if we are on the road to joining the Southern Hemisphere on the "Yes no" side of the street.

: Mugball is correct in saying that Americans often say "yes and no." I can't concur that it seems likely that the "and" will simply disappear, although it may happen. Mugball uses the spelling "discernable." Dictionaries nowadays permit this, since their guiding principle, at least in the U.S. and at least since 1963, is that what people believe is correct must be considered correct. "Discern" is from Ltin "discernere," a second-conjugation verb, in which case English descendents ending with "-ble" will usually have an "i" before the "-ble." The equivalent ending in verbs descended from Ltin first-conjugation verbs will be "-able." This is not entirely a dependable rule, however, largely because the French language, or that part of it brought over the Channel by the conquering Normans, used "-able" for verbs of first, second and third conjugations. You didn't want to know that, did you? SS

I forgot to explain that my strange spelling "descendent" was a sort of whimsical illustration of how the rule works or does not work. "Descendant" (the usual and "correct" spelling) comes from Norman French, and therefore uses the "-ant" ending rather than the "-ent" ending, which would probably prevail if "descendant" had been borrowed directly from Ltin. Or perhaps I'm just a bad speller. SS