“Yeah, no.”

Language Log had an interesting discussion about the language construct “yeah, no.” It exists in a bunch of language, and it seems to serve at least a couple of purposes in conversation. 

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

9 replies on ““Yeah, no.””

  1. It’s only fun to use if some doe eyed optimist ask to do something that on a very basic or emotional level seems reasonable but is actually very wrong. It’s gentle and more humane then the “that’s perhaps the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard”.

    I’ve also heard it used during brainstorming when someone comes up with a very dumb idea- when even the discussion of dumb is OK.

  2. I think when I use it, the “yeah” is usually there to underscore that I understand and process the point which was being communicated, and the “no” is there to vocalize disagreement with that point.

    I think it also comes up inadvertently in response to compound questions. My mom does this all the time:

    “You didn’t take any broccoli. Are you not hungry? Or do you not like broccoli anymore?”

    “Yeah, no, I like it fine, I just had a late lunch.”

    I usually answer this way because it’s safer than asking my mother how she could possibly extrapolate from the fact that I didn’t eat broccoli once that I might perhaps never eat it again.

  3. Definitely a “Yup, I know what you’re saying, but no, I have a completely alternate view,” thing. Softer than than “You’re full of sh*t you ignorant pustule” which type A US Americans prefer. It’s a very Canadian speech pattern. Softer, gentler denial. If you map it out, it will definitely correlate with support for universal health care, and political leanings, Right leaning less, Left leaning more. On the Left, we like to say NO softly.

  4. Agree with Sam and Barry on this use. I do it on occasion, and the”yeah” part (with proper tone) carries a great deal of meaning.

    Regarding Barry’s left/right usage….. Yeah, no, that may the pattern you have seen, but there is nothing necessarily political about it. More of a young/old thing. Lots of young folks on the right use “yeah no.”

  5. I like new constructs like this that actually serve a purpose. Some linguists would argue that any new language construct serves a purpose, or else it would not exist. I’m not in that camp. :) In the past few days I’ve found myself using it deliberately, and noted a) that it really use useful and b) that it didn’t seem at all strange, which tells me that I’ve probably been subconsciously using it for a while.

  6. Linguistically, I’m a descriptivist rather than a prescriptivist, so I’m not bothered by this semantically, but I’ve mostly run into this construction (or at least noticed it’s use) when people are being condescending assholes, so I’ll admit I bristle a bit when I hear it.

  7. I must admit, in a discussion about language, it’s hard to take someone seriously — particularly when they go WAY out of their way to use big words — when they confuse “its” with “it’s” in the middle of their highbrow diatribe.

    Thanks for the good chuckle.

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