Small words, like ‘no,’ can carry big impact

Words are such wonderful things, aren?t they? From asking a simple question to receiving a succinct answer, to mellifluously meandering on the meaning of melodies, every word seems to have its own texture, its own flavor.

Some trip teasingly off the tongue, others torturously torrent through your teeth. And the meanings, oh, the meanings. The various flavorings and nuance come together in well-written prose much like a chef?s culinary masterpiece, carefully plated and presented for your palate.

When you say salt to a chef, it?s not just that simple. Any chef worth his or her salt (ha, see what I did there?) will need to know whether you mean iodized table salt, sea salt, kosher salt, Himalayan pink salt, grey salt, Hawaiian sea salt, Celtic salt or Fleur de Sel.

Each has its own special flavor and will add a different quality, depending on what dish it?s used in. One does not simply throw in some Morton?s and call it good.

Not to sound corny (sorry, another chef joke), just as there are basic seasonings in the kitchen, so there are basic little words which we just couldn?t live without, much less construct coherent sentences. Of course, and, the, with, why, how, and when, are important. One word is outstanding in my mind in its vastly varied nuance and common usage. May I present to you the phenomenon of ?no.?

At the outset, no is a very simple word. May I? No. See how easy that was? No? Aha, now we?re on to something.

Adults tend to define and use ?no? as an absolute, especially adults without small children. Most any question can be answered with either a no or a yes (an absence of no) with few, if any, qualifiers. Once verbalized, the no is assumed to be binding and final by both parties, at least among consenting adults.

Children, on the other hand, are the true connoisseurs of ?no.? For children, being on the receiving end of a no is not an absolute. It can mean anything from not right now, to not ever (closely related to ?never? even when ?never? was actually yesterday), to not that particular shade of blue.

Children remain convinced that no is a fluid word, that if questioned enough, may change the next time to yes. Being told no always, always requires either a qualifier (no, not now, not until next week, not unless you behave) or a reason (and because I said no just doesn?t cut the mustard).

The only reason that children don?t require their nos to be documented in triplicate and signed in the presence of witnesses is because most of them haven?t gotten a lawyer yet. I wouldn?t put it past them.

However, when a child says no, THAT no is absolute. If pressed for a reason or a qualifier on their statement (ie, then when ARE you going to get dressed, or but you liked carrots yesterday), the no simply gains volume and duration sufficient to drown out any reasonable attempt at communication. Social niceties like ?would you please? and ?if you don?t mind? at this point, are collateral damage.

The age at which the no becomes solidified and absolute from its previous fluid state is unknown. My husband recently demonstrated to me that he is definitely an adult. I?ve been wanting a goat for some time now. How can you not want a goat? They eat brush, they?re good for either meat or milk, they…umm…well, some of them are kind of cute and friendly. Yeah. That?s it.

He had been leaning toward letting me get one for a while. Of course, he?ll tell you he wasn?t. That, indeed, he had said no, but he just hadn?t put his foot down about it. Just nod and smile at him. I was there. Against my better instincts, I had pretty much accepted his lack of desire for such a useful barnyard creature, and only brought it up to tease him.

The subject of goats did come up in discussion one day. Don?t ask me how. I didn?t even ask him if I could have one. I might have simply given him a look that said ?they?re really useful.?

He took this as my perception of the fluidity of the word no. He gazed lovingly into my eyes, and firmly said ?NO, we can?t have a goat.?

Masterfully demonstrating my acceptance of the situation with a small sigh and downward glance, I thought that the issue was settled.

He, however, had other ideas. He continued, ?And NO, we can?t have more than one goat either.? Needless to say, not only do we not have a goat, we do not have more than one either. Matter settled.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you. May your life be only lightly seasoned with ?no? this year!

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