"Or no" or... no?
December 13, 2014 4:59 AM   Subscribe

Lately I've started noticing the construction "or no" in places where I would have expected "or not".

For example:
Should I do this or no?
I don't like tomatoes, cooked or no.

I'm eager to find out the following:
Is this usage new? Is it correct? Does it feel sloppy and overly informal to native speakers of English (which I'm not)?
Due to its nature this construction is not easily Googlable. I'd be grateful for any insights.
posted by Too-Ticky to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
The usage is not new. The OED says it dates back to Middle English

At least in the UK, it is particularly associated with Scottish speech, but not uncommonly heard from English speakers. In the latter case it is not considered wrong, but certainly not the expected form. However, nobody would be picked up or criticized for saying "or no" rather than "or not".

From my personal view, it feels like nothing more than a variant construction.
posted by Thing at 5:17 AM on December 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


Your first example seems like fairly normal usage for constructing a yes/no question in spoken English, probably with the aim of emphasizing the no part. For written English, it's a bit too informal for my tastes.

Your second example, which is not a question, seems strange to me. I can't recall coming across that usage before.
posted by deadweightloss at 5:17 AM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


A post on this grammar blog has what looks like good info and examples.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:20 AM on December 13, 2014


Here's a little pop culture to investigate.
posted by thirdletter at 6:40 AM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


To me, "or no" sounds softer and less demanding than "or not" can sound. Maybe a little informal, but not sloppy.
posted by tomboko at 7:26 AM on December 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


To me, "or no" sounds softer and less demanding than "or not" can sound. Maybe a little informal, but not sloppy.

I agree with that. It has a very different tone than "or not." "Or no" sounds accommodating: it's like you're giving permission to the other person to say "no" if they don't want something."
posted by John Cohen at 8:20 AM on December 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think "or no" sounds very bad and improper, regardless of whether it has roots in Middle English.

It also sounds childish to me, but not in the sense that a child would say it. More like, maybe how a mother would speak to her small child. Maybe that is similar to what John Cohen is saying. That it is so focused on being accommodating, like a mother would be to her small child, and that's the predominant impression of the usage.
posted by Blitz at 11:40 AM on December 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


Regarding the first example:

I think "or no" ..., regardless of whether it has roots in Middle English ... sounds childish to me, but not in the sense that a child would say it.

My personal take on this is that it's modern youth-speak, i.e., putting on a little play to express your point, rather than using a sentence. You can almost see the speaker putting up her little hand and miming "no".

Maybe it's similar to someone saying "and she went *shrug* and he was all *uh!!*" with various facial expressions, instead of just saying "he was exasperated when she said she didn't know."

Regarding the tomato example, I've never heard that usage.
posted by JimN2TAW at 12:22 PM on December 13, 2014


Here is an example of usage in something that is not a question.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:33 PM on December 13, 2014


I'm a native English speaker with non-native (but fluent) Jewish parents. It has a kind of Yiddish-y, nu? vibe to me, so I agree that it sounds vaguely non-English but it also has a familiar, if distinct ring to it.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:50 PM on December 13, 2014


Forgot to quote: I was referring to the "Should I do this or no?" part.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:52 PM on December 13, 2014


Your second example, which is not a question, seems strange to me. I can't recall coming across that usage before.

Funny; I had the opposite reaction. The second sounds more natural to me.

Regardless, they're both long-established and unobjectionable.

The blog post linked above cites Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage and Burchfield's third edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage. If those strike you as suspiciously permissive authorities, I would note that Fowler himself, in the original edition of Modern English Usage, has no problem with it:
No is... an adverb meaning not & used [in this sense] only after or, & chiefly in the phrase whether or no : Pleasant or no, it is true ; He must do it whether he will or no.
It's also the first definition at Merriam-Webster's online dictionary:
1. a chiefly Scottish: NOT
    b —used as a function word to express the negative of an alternative choice or possibility <shall we go out to dinner or no>
posted by Shmuel510 at 3:04 PM on December 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


Here is an example of usage in something that is not a question.
``Skyfall was a damn fine film, Bond or no."

This is different from your tomato example, because ``Bond" is a noun, so "Bond or no Bond" is different from "cooked or no cooked." I suspect you will find a number of people who find ``Skyfall was a damn fine film, Bond or no." more acceptable in their dialect than ``I don't like tomatoes, cooked or no."
posted by yeolcoatl at 5:28 PM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that or not? negates only the do it part of the sentence, while or no? seems like it negates the entire sentence by making it into a yes/no proposition, i.e.

I should do it, or I should not do it

(Yes, I should do it), or (No, I should not do it)

I totally agree with the person who said that "or no" sounds accommodating. This is ALWAYS what I say at work. To say "Should I do it, or not?" would, in my head, sound like the issue at hand is already well established, and I'm frustrated because the other person is unable to give me a solid answer, whereas "or no?" sounds like I genuinely don't know myself, and I'm seeking out the guidance of a colleague.
posted by null14 at 10:12 PM on December 13, 2014


This is so Wisconsin, er no?
posted by theraflu at 11:07 PM on December 13, 2014


I'm a native North American English speaker who grew up in and currently lives in New England. I use this construction all the time, and I feel as if my Brooklyn-raised-in-a-Jewish-neighborhood Italian heritage father *and* my Scotch/German/Irish Southeast New England heritage mother used this construction when I was growing up. It is most often used when offering a choice, like, "Do you want sauce or no?" "Do you want to go to the movie or no?"

It's certainly informal and colloquial, and I do not use it when I am working as a speech-language pathologist, but use it all the time talking with family and friends (well, friends who are not SLPs :)
posted by absquatulate at 1:55 PM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


theraflu: "This is so Wisconsin, er no?"

Or maybe even New Mexico?
posted by mhum at 12:06 PM on December 15, 2014


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