So, You Agree? “No, Totally!”

Are you ever talking to someone and they say something you agree with and to express this agreement you say something like “Oh, no, yeah!” I do this all the time! And I’ve noticed it, but never thought too deeply about what I really meant by it.

So when this article from the New Yorker, What Part of “No Totally” Don’t You Understand?, recently popped up on my Facebook I had to get some answers.


It turns out I am not alone in this linguistic slippage – it is becoming a far reaching phenomenon mostly used in speech. Celebrities use it, older and younger generations use it, there’s even an entire podcast titled “No, totally!”.

Schulz trudges through the history of the word “no”, which apparently is a lengthy and slippery one. And she knocks around a few theories as to how it came to be used as an affirmative. Maybe it’s a throwback to the way the word “nay” used to function in English? Or maybe it’s a way of showing surprise or genuine interest? Maybe it’s just a way of transitioning in conversation in the way comedians do (“No, but seriously.”)?

My theory (now that I’ve thought about) is that it is a way of affirming someone’s explanation of something and letting them know they don’t need to continue explaining. Sort of a condensed version of “No, don’t go on. Yes, I understand.”

Fascinating, right?

Check out the full article if you’re interested and, in the meantime, I’m going to be really self-conscious of whenever I say it now…


5 thoughts on “So, You Agree? “No, Totally!”

  1. Madeline Brady April 13, 2015 / 8:45 pm

    @Sarah- Hah! I love that. Language is such a weird thing if you really think about it…

    @Kathy and Sarah- I didn’t know that about Irish! I kind of like that, it feels very active. Haven’t quite gotten there on Duolingo yet though hehe…


  2. kathy April 8, 2015 / 7:31 pm

    Here’s an interesting tidbit — did you know there are no words for “yes” and “no” in Gaelic? You can still indicate an affirmative or negative response not, however, by saying “yes” or “no” the linguistics of it are a bit beyond me, but I love that about the Irish! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • sarahcunning2013 April 8, 2015 / 9:38 pm

      True! To say yes, you just say “I will!” or “I do!” or “I have!” or whatever the relevant verb might be. The Irish do it when speaking English too.


  3. sarahcunning2013 April 8, 2015 / 6:05 pm

    Reminds me of the one about someone lecturing on language, talking about double negatives (do they cancel each other out?) and saying in passing, but you never of a double positive, did you? And someone in the back row mutters, “yeah, right!”


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