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.”
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…