Doubly Negative.

clown2“No, uh uh.”

This is something people will sometimes say to me in response to a question. It’s not a double negative in the grammatical sense, which is really a positive (“you can’t not do it” for instance) but a negative stated twice for emphasis. I think it’s mainly a Southern thing, like saying “bless your heart”. As I’ve mentioned before “bless your heart” can be a veiled insult, but even though people have come to assume it is sometimes it’s a genuine expression of concern and sympathy. On the other hand “No, uh uh” always feels to me like it’s an insult. It comes across as, “No, and you’re stupid for asking.” That would explain the repetition for emphasis. I can even believe it started as a response not only to stupid questions but to stupid questions from people who were too stupid to take “no” for an answer, so the repetition was designed to throw off potential objections. That may explain the origins, but I think it’s survived as a kind of verbal tic. It gets used as a response even to intelligent questions. And by intelligent questions I don’t mean “What’s the sum of the square root of the hypotenuse?” but questions where the answer isn’t obvious. Maybe I’m being overly generous in my definition but I think “Where’s the bathroom?” is an intelligent question when there are no signs around that point the way. A dumb question is when you walk up to a floor display toilet in the hardware store and ask, “I’ve gotta go, could you turn around?”

“No, uh uh” annoys me when it gets used at times when I don’t think it’s warranted.

“Can I leave through this door?”

“No, uh uh.”

This was in an office. There was a door behind a receptionist that I knew led to the building parking lot and would have saved me the trouble of winding my way back through the building to get to the entrance. I think it even had a sign over it that said “EXIT”. It didn’t have an alarm or a padlock or something that said “Beware of the panther”. Maybe it was booby trapped, but how was I supposed to know that? The point of a booby trap isn’t to catch boobies, which are mostly found in the southern hemisphere anyway, but to trick unsuspecting people into being trapped. They should be called smarty traps, but that’s another story. Since there was no obvious reason why the door behind her couldn’t be used as an exit it wasn’t stupid of me to ask if I could leave through that door. Don’t you agree?

Please don’t say, “No, uh uh.”


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  1. PinkNoam

    I think that would irritate the hell out of me too.
    My mum has an equally annoying way of saying no and making you feel stupid, she goes:

    “No. But thanks for asking”

    Instant rage.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That sounds more polite but also sounds like it too carries the implication of “And you’re stupid for asking” that always steams me.

  2. Gina

    I had to read the “bless your heart” post because I too have mostly southern relatives and it’s a phrase I’ve heard my whole life. Usually it’s “Bless her (or his) little heart”. And I agree that it’s usually said sincerely. My Mamaw used to say it a lot and if something was really sad, she’d add “Oh, it’s just pitiful”. Do people from the north have Mamaws? Because that seems to be a southern thing too. Anyway, I will refrain from using double negatives in your presence in the future. Unless I want to annoy you. So that’s nice to have in my back pocket… 🙂

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      My grandmother was quite diminutive so I think she would have felt wrong blessing anyone’s “little heart”. And double negatives don’t bother me as long as they’re used correctly. If you really want to get under my skin use “y’all” when speaking to a single person. DAMMIT, YOU YANKEES, IT’S THE SECOND PERSON PLURAL. HOW HARD IS THAT TO FIGURE OUT?

  3. kdcol

    My MIL will say, “Oh, that’s a shame” about almost anything. Example: I was (unsuccessfully) trying to breastfeed my first and she came in the hospital room and saw how much trouble I was having, and she says, “Oh, that’s a shame.” I wasn’t sure how to take it, and in my already emotional state, let’s just say her remark didn’t help things. But I’ve had to learn not to take it like she’s implying something negative about me. But yet at times maybe she is.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I hope that’s a sincere expression of concern because that would have been the worst time to insult you, but it really can be hard to tell sometimes.


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