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Post by please » Wed Oct 12, 2005 9:33 am

I am looking into the origins of the phrases "no entry", "no smoking", "no parking" etc. in respect of the negative formation "no + word". Any help?
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Post by russcable » Wed Oct 12, 2005 3:08 pm

Well for one "early" example, the King James Version of the Bible (1611) has
Luke 2:7
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
Or are you asking specifically what was the first 2 word sign that said "no xxx"?
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Post by please » Wed Oct 12, 2005 3:39 pm

I am trying to find out the origin of the formation "no + word" keeping the verb in the affirmative whilst the meaning is negative : "No smoking is allowed" means "Smoking is not allowed". In short form this gives us "No smoking", and "No entry", and "No parking", and so on. "No man is an island" is another example of this formation.
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Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Oct 12, 2005 5:28 pm

'Please',

"No man is an island" is not congruent with your other examples. Applying your logic, that expression is an abbreviated form of something like " 'Man is an island' is not allowed," or, more idiomatically, "No man is allowed to be an island," either of which is nonsensical.

Grammatically, "No man is an island" is a simple statement that contains no implied elements.
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Post by please » Wed Oct 12, 2005 5:56 pm

It implies that "man cannot be an island". But the verb is used in the affirmative (as opposed to "cannot be"). You may like to take a look at the original query.
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Post by kagriffy » Wed Oct 12, 2005 6:34 pm

Actually, the verbs in your examples are NOT "affirmative" (whatever that means). "Smoking" and "Parking" are gerunds; they are not "affirmative" or "negative." (I might also point out that "entry" is not even a verb at all.) These aren't sentences; they are short, prohibitive phrases. I doubt you'll find an "origin" for them, because they have probably existed since the dawn of English as a way to express prohibition against an act. "No man is an island," on the other hand, is a complete sentence: Subject = "no man"; Predicate = "is an island." (Who is an island? No man.)

When you "re-word" the short, prohibitive phrases into sentences ("No smoking is allowed."), you are still creating a complete sentence: Subject = "no smoking" (a gerund phrase used as a noun); Predicate = "is allowed." (What is allowed? No smoking.) To avoid having an "affirmative" verb, you would end up with a double negative: "No smoking is not (or isn't) allowed." That would imply smoking is required.
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Post by Phil White » Wed Oct 12, 2005 9:56 pm

Please,

Although the most common form of negation in English is to apply a negative determiner to the verb (I don't like Mondays, she cannot come tonight, they never visit us, I didn't see them), applying a negative determiner to a noun (or in the cases you originally cited, a verbal noun or gerund) is also possible (I saw no elephants). I cannot think of any other negative determiners (never, nowhere, etc.) than "no" being used in this way. In some ways, it seems to me that the negative determiner here is acting in the same way as an ordinary quantifier (few, some, etc.) with a zero quantification.

When negation is applied to a noun, it appears to me that it has a subtly different connotation than when it is applied to the verb. Thus, I saw no elephants suggests to me that I was looking for them particularly, but saw none, whereas I didn't see any elephants merely states that elephants were not among the things I saw. This may, however depend to a large extent on intonation.

You suggest that "no" in your examples is negating an implied verb. Formally, it is negating a noun (verbal noun/gerund) and taking the correct form to do so. On a semantic level, unlike many other languages, standard English only generally uses a single negative determiner, and this generally negates the entire meaning of the simple sentence or clause (or other unit) in which it is placed, and hence also the verb, implied or not. Other languages, many creoles and some dialects of English are quite happy with multiple negation (I ain't got no money), as indeed was middle English (He never yet no villainy ne said / In all his life, unto no manner wight, Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, Prologue).

As far as the origins of the usage are concerned, just have a look at virtually any occurrence of the word "no" in Chaucer, and you'll find that in the vast majority of cases, it is used as a negative determiner, affecting the entire sentence/clause/phrase. (I counted 27 occurrences in the Prologue alone. 22 were negative determiners applied to nouns, 5 of which appeared with multiple negation. The remaining 5 were in the collocations "no longer", "no more", "no such" and also had a negating effect on the entire statement.)

A count of the raw occurrences of the words "no" and "not" (not taking the precise usage into account) in three pretty randomly selected (they happen to be on the desktop of the machine I'm working on) literary sources from three epochs suggests that negation with "no" was more common in Chaucer's day than it is now.
Chaucer, Canterbury Tales: "no" 1004, "not" 1468
Shakespeare, Complete works: "no" 2785, "not" 7429
Henry James, The Ambassadors: "no" 276, "not" 468

The earliest I can trace back such usage is to Anglo-Saxon, where "nænig" (not any) is used in much the same way.

... Þâ se eorl ongeat,
þät he in nið-sele nât-hwylcum wäs,
þær him nænig wäter wihte ne sceðede,
ne him for hrôf-sele hrînan ne mehte
fær-gripe flôdes:
Beowulf 1513 - 1517
(The earl then grasped that he was in a lower chamber (cave?) where no water could scathe him, neither was the treacherous attack of the flood able to touch him because of the roofed hall.)
Apologies for any misinterpretations, my Anglo-Saxon is not what it was 25 years ago...
To avoid the double negative in modern English, I skirted round the "ne ... ne" (neither ... nor) construction, otherwise it's as close as I can get it.

Your phrase keeping the verb in the affirmative intrigues me. I was unaware that English verbs had non-affirmative forms as such. Apart from the possibility of verbs having prefixes which negate their meaning (do/undo, activate/deactivate, etc.), negation in standard English relies primarily on negative determiners. Even in the construction "I don't (do not) play football", neither the main verb "play", nor the auxiliary "do" are anything but affirmative. It is only the negative determiner which achieves the negation, and not some strange mutation of the verb. (The construction "I do play football" is a valid grammatical construction used for emphasis, and seen like that, perhaps negation simply relies on the emphatic form of the affirmative; this is certainly a more elegant description than suggesting that "do not play" is a non-affirmative form of the verb "play".)
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Post by Phil White » Wed Oct 12, 2005 10:05 pm

K. Allen (how do you like to be addressed, by the way?),

You wrote while I was composing my reply, and I started on the same tack as you. Then it occurred to me that the question referred to the implied verb "permit" or "allow" and not to the verbal nouns/gerunds. Pity that, I should have saved the bit about the 15-step continuum between verbal nouns and pure participles for a rainy day.
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Post by please » Thu Oct 13, 2005 11:33 am

I apologize for a little confusion that I may have caused for some commentators. But I have benefited from all your comments, especially from a most comprehensive reply by Phil White. Many thanks to you all. I am still looking into the origins of "no+word" formations. Not so much in a purely grammatical context (as the commentators rightly assumed) but in terms of predicting the future of this usage . Would it remain in its usual territory or would it gain power and start competing with other forms of negation. "No" is so powerful a word that it may, in time, easily put all other negations out of use, provided our inclination to store more power in less space continues to grow. "No Dogs" is not a proper use of the language, but we all understand it.
Imagine a negative sentence that could not be re-formed by using "no". Taking an extreme case to task, wouldn't you say that "I have no love for you" may be more to the point and much less hurting than "I don't love you"?
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Post by kagriffy » Thu Oct 13, 2005 6:46 pm

Phil, your response was excellent. I was simply attempting to clarify for "Please" that "smoking" and "parking" are not used as verbs in those examples. You took the answer much deeper than I could. I simply couldn't find the right words (or, I could find no right words!) to express the concept.

And, for the record, "K. Allen" or simply "Allen" will suffice. (Either is better than half the junk mail I get, which is often--for reasons apparent only to some mass-mailing computer somewhere--addressed to "KNA A. Griffy"!)
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Post by Phil White » Thu Oct 13, 2005 7:37 pm

Thinking about it a little longer, it seems to me that the scope of negation varies slightly depending whether the negative determiner "no" or the negative determiner "not" is used.

Compare:
Harry would be happy with no girlfriend
With no girlfriend, Harry would be happy
*?With no girfriend would Harry be happy
Harry wouldn't be happy with a/any girlfriend
Harry would be happy without a/any girlfriend

I prefixed the third example with an asterisk and a question mark because I'm not entirely sure it's a valid construction. It's certainly not common. The ambiguity of the first example is resolved by the comma in the second (the negation is scoped to the phrase "with no girlfriend"). In spoken language, the comma would be indicated by a pause. In the third and fourth, we are forced to choose a construction which resolves the ambiguity (the preposition "without" in the last only applies to the noun "girlfriend"). I'm not sure that the example has general applicability, but it would seem that "no" scopes more tightly than "not". The ambiguity of the first example seems to me to proceed directly from the fact that we can't identify the scope of negation.

In answer to "Please's" question on the 13th, I guess the use of "no" in the sorts of examples discussed will accompany the deverbalization of the language as seen in headlines ("No clear majority in Germany", "No British casualties in Martian attack"). No woman, no cry; no verb, no "not".

The increasing nominalization of verbs and the tendency to favour noun constructions in modern English (particularly "corporate" English) may well bring with it a renaissance of the "no" constructions which are associated with nouns.
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Post by Edwin Ashworth » Sun Oct 23, 2005 3:36 pm

Wasn't there an Archie Pellago once?
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Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Oct 23, 2005 6:35 pm

Then there's the Isle of Man, whose existence manifestly disproves the truth of the saying.
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Post by Edwin Ashworth » Sun Oct 23, 2005 7:35 pm

There would be no islands at all if Tom Bola had his way.
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Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Oct 23, 2005 8:33 pm

The grave waits to greet Tomb Hóla!
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