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Where did the phrase “yeah no” come from?

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I’ve noticed myself saying “yeah no.” The expression came up in a class one day, when I had asked students to bring in examples of language variation. One student suggested “yeah no” as an example of not-quite standard California English. California, it seems, gets the credit or blame for everything. But “yeah no” is not California English and it’s not just something young people say. It’s been around for a while and is used by males and females, young and old. I began to notice “yeah no” in the speech of others and soon in my own speech as well. Perhaps I had been using it all along and was just now becoming more aware of it. When I mentioned her use of “yeah no” to a Victorianist colleague, she suggested the usage might have come from a BBC character on the show “Little Britain”, which ran on television from 2003 to 2005. The character Vicky Pollard is a teen slacker stereotype, prone to saying “Yeah but no but yeah but…”. The catchphrase is meant to convey inarticulateness. And the Urban Dictionary gives no less than six “definitions” of “Yeah no” including this one: “An annoying and obnoxious phrase uttered by the simple minded, who don’t think before they speak.” Yeah no. It is wrong to think of “yeah no” as an oxymoron and a sign of inarticulate confusion. “Yeah no” is what linguists call a discourse marker. Discourse markers are usually short and sometime vague-seeming parts of a sentence which serve semantic, expressive, and practical functions in speech. They can indicate assent or dissent (or sometimes both). They can indicate attention, sarcasm, hedging, self-effacement, or face-saving. It is wrong to think of “yeah no” as an oxymoron and a sign of inarticulate confusion. Examples of “yeah no” abound and there is quite a bit of linguistic commentary, including posts by Stephen Dodson on his Language Hat blog, by Mark Liberman on the Language Log, and by Ben Yagoda in The Chronicle of Higher Education Lingua Franca. . .

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News source: Linguistics – OUPblog

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