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"No" Means "Yes"

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Air Control Guy:'re not just impersonating a pilot so you can drink here [at the pilots-only bar], are you?...
Homer: *ashamed* Yeah. That's exactly why I'm here.
Air Control Guy: [laughs] You fly boys crack me up!
*cut to outside the plane*
Homer: But I keep telling you, I'm not a pilot!
Air Control Guy: [angrily] And I keep telling you, you fly boys crack me up! *throws him into the cockpit*

For whatever reason, Alice has been mistaken for an authority on some matter of vital importance, or the keeper of some terrible secret, or perhaps is simply normally known for sarcastic wit. When questioned on a subject she flat out denies it, but her denials are instead pounced on and taken as a winking admission instead, so each denial has a stronger and stronger opposite effect.

Can be caused by Sarcasm-Blind, Nonverbal Miscommunication, Poor Communication Kills, or Cassandra Truth. Often part of a Kafka Komedy. See also Once for Yes, Twice for No for instances where "No" means "Yes, yes". In the case of a Confusing Multiple Negative, two "Nos" taken as a "Yes" are not misinterpreted.

This may have originated with Sigmund Freud, who claimed that a patient who says "no" is simply in denial, and the more vehemently they say "no", the more likely the real answer is "yes". (Most of Freud's clients were women, the silly little creatures.) This rationale is used in lots of Slap-Slap-Kiss situations, but also in Real Life as a seduction line, and more seriously to condone rape.

Do not confuse with Distinction Without a Difference (where "It's not X, it's Y" and Y is functionally identical to X) or By "No", I Mean "Yes" (where a character immediately adds that they mean the exact opposite of what they said). Or with any language whose word for "yes" actually does sound like another language's word for "no" and the resulting chaos.


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  • Ron says this word for word in Becoming Female when trying to rape Crystal (a.k.a. Female Harry).
  • Played for Laughs in "The Knight in Violet" (a story where Jaime Lannister becomes a Violet Lantern): with most of the Small Council missing for one reason or the other, the children (Tommen, Myrcella, Devan Seaworth, and Robyn Arryn) form their own Small Council and get a frothing Littlefinger to act as Master of Coin. When Myrcella asks Robyn if it was a good idea to pick Littlefinger, Robyn replies that he said he was fine, but when pressed Robyn says that Littlefinger may have said no, but that Lysa Arryn says when Littlefinger says no he really means yes.
  • In Potter's Protector Lucius Malfoy becomes convinced that his son Draco is gay. When Draco swears on his life and magic that he isn't, Lucius asks how he was able to fake the oath. Draco then asks for Veritaserum while privately wondering if even that will be convincing enough.

    Film - Animated 
  • Mater runs into this in Cars 2 once he realizes that spies Finn McMissile and Holly Shiftwell think he's also a spy:
    Mater: But you know I'm just a tow truck, right?
    Finn: Right. And I'm just in the import-export business.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • Famously used in Monty Python's Life of Brian, when Brian is cornered by his cult. He denies being the Messiah, but one of his followers shouts "Only the true Messiah denies his divinity!", leading them to become even more fanatical. Of course, changing tack and claiming to be the messiah doesn't work either.
  • Played straight and for laughs in the third The Naked Gun movie, when Jane is harassed by a sleazy truck driver. She repeatedly and firmly tells him "no", which he dismisses by claiming, "I know when a woman says 'no', she really means 'yes'". Fed up, she finally tells him "yes". Angered, he grabs her, asking, "What do you mean, telling me 'no'?", forcing her to defend herself.
  • In Nicholas Sparks movie The Choice, the hero pursues the heroine—who has explicitly told him that she needs some time to think about her feelings for him and the fiance that she cheated on with him—to her parents home and proposes to her. She repeatedly and emphatically tells him "no" (aside from the cheating, she's known him only a month), all of which he disregards, even answering her "nos" with repeated "yeses" of his own until she finally gives in.
  • In A Time to Kill, Jake's secretary Ethel vehemently denies to Jake and Harry that she had an affair with Jake's mentor Lucien. After she storms off, the two of them look at each other and declare, "She did him.", clearly having taken her denial as confirmation.
  • In A Man Could Get Killed American businessman William Beddoes is mistaken for a British secret agent. Attempts to assert his identity are pretty much met with a wink and a nod.
  • French Kiss. Luc details the poutiness of French women. He states they know how to say "no" when they mean "yes" and vice versa, and that it frustrates and excites French men. Later, Kate defies the trope, saying she isn't capable of doing that:
    Kate: Happy - smile. Sad - frown. Use the corresponding face for the corresponding emotion!

  • As a joke goes: "If a lady says 'No', she means 'Maybe'; if she says 'Maybe', she means 'Yes'; if she says 'Yes', she's no lady." Conversely: "If a diplomat says 'Yes', they mean 'Maybe'; if they say 'Maybe', they mean 'No'; if they say 'No', they're no diplomat."
  • A common joke regarding Mars and Venus Gender Contrast: If your wife answers "no" to questions like "Is something wrong?", "Do you need anything?" or "Am I in trouble?", you might as well move to the couch right away.

  • Dave Barry mentions in one pre-1992 column: The readers know that whatever the official press agency says, it's always a lie, such as announcing the glorious Soviet troops riding in nuclear-powered tanks had scored yet another victory against the evil widow-stabbing baby-eating oppressive capitalist dogs.
  • In Yellow Blue Tibia, the sci-fi writer Skvorecky ends up at a club for UFO fanatics. He flat-out denies that UFOs exist, but because they live in Soviet Russia, everyone simply assumes that when an authority figure denies something, that means it must be true, and so "no" is an even stronger affirmative than "yes".
  • In Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, the protagonists make up a Templar World Domination Plan, based on verified historical facts, for their own amusement. When a group of occultists gets wind of this, they think "The Plan" is genuine and want to know about it. The protagonists' denial of the existence of a Plan are, of course, taken as proof of The Plan's existence. Note that even if the book somehow mocks occultists and their beliefs in "Master Plans" or "Secret Messages" (one of the characters, Lia, says this openly), there were people who actually thought Eco was giving a codified message with this book.
  • Pride and Prejudice: Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth and takes her increasingly firm rejections of him as her just Playing Hard to Get (as a properly serious and demure young lady should from what he's heard) until she becomes fed up and leaves the room.
  • Tress of the Emerald Sea: Tress joins the crew of the Crow's Song for reasons she keeps secret, but the helmswoman Salay becomes convinced that she's actually a King's Mask, a legendary (and possibly non-existent) secret agent of the crown. Tress's protests to the contrary only cement Salay's belief — the stories say that a King's Mask can never reveal their status to an outsider.

    Live-Action Television 
  • Many years ago on Late Night, Conan O'Brien did a bit where his studio had been "infested with hipsters", who took his increasingly angry requests to leave (and everything else he said) ironically.
  • Inverted on The Cosby Show, where Elvin learns the hard way that Sondra saying, "Yes, it's okay if you go out" (referring to him having dinner with an ex that she was too sick to attend with him) meant "No, I don't want you to go out".
    • Played straight in another episode when Theo offers to plan a bachelor party for Denise's husband Martin. When he offers to get a stripper, Martin tells him "No", but because he laughs while saying it, Denise assumes this trope and jumps down his throat.
    • Inverted again when Theo and Cockroach have the chance to be on a TV dance show. The producers tell them there's only room for one of them, so Theo tells Cockroach that he can go. He spends the remainder of the episode being a jerk to everyone in the family because he's angry at Cockroach for not realizing that his "yes" meant "no".
  • Also inverted on Perfect Strangers, when Jennifer asks Larry if it's all right if she has dinner with her ex-boyfriend. He says "Yes". Balki naturally assumes they're going to engage in some idiotic hijinks, but Larry admits that his "yes" was genuine and that while he isn't thrilled, (a) he trusts Jennifer, and (b) figures she'll be pleased to realize this. Of course, it turns out she wanted him to tell her "no" to prove that he cares about her.
    • Played straight in another episode, where Jennifer asks Larry to let the plumber into her apartment while she's out. Larry decides this means she wants him to do the repairs and cancels the appointment. Of course, everything goes disastrously and Larry learns his lesson from this idiocy, leading to the above-mentioned incident.
  • On All My Children, after Kit Fisher is raped, attacked in the parking lot of the bar she was hanging out at. When her attacker is brought to court, he claims that the sex was consensual, even as he freely admits that Kit told him "No" when he made advances to her, insisting, "Of course she said "no". They all say that." thus revealing himself to not only be Kit's rapist but probably of other women, all because he genuinely does not realize that "no" means. . ."no". Later, when he confides in a female friend, he stubbornly continues to insist, "She said "no", but she meant "yes"", horrifying his friend who had stood by him because she genuinely thought he was innocent. When she angrily tells him to leave her home, she nearly becomes his next victim as he now starts to complain "So now you're starting with that crap too?"
  • On an episode of Murder, She Wrote, Jessica is visiting friends when the requisite murder takes place. The investigating cop inexplicably becomes convinced that Jessica works for the CIA and takes everything she says as some kind of code—when she introduces someone as "a friend of mine", he takes it to mean that this person is also involved in the CIA. All of her denials serve to do nothing more than convince him otherwise.
  • Cited in the "Raped" episode of Quantum Leap:
    Al: Oh, the old, "She said "no", but she really meant "yes"" crap?
  • Happens to George on Seinfeld, when he develops an uncontrollable wink. So despite him firmly and sincerely telling Kramer not to do something, Kramer takes his wink as a tacit endorsement and does it anyway. Later, after George chews him out and demands that he rectify the situation, he winks again. When the frustrated Kramer asks him what he really wants, George forcibly holds his eyes open and reaffirms his statement. There's also when George's boss asks him about a coworker. George's answer is once again completely truthful, but his wink causes the boss to assume the opposite.
  • In an episode of Scarecrow and Mrs. King the villain of the week calls Lee's apartment and when Amanda answers the phone he decides she's Scarecrow and abducts her. Pleading innocence and exhibiting things her sons made for her is met with skepticism.
  • On an episode of Promised Land (1996), a woman becomes completely convinced that Russell Greene has divine healing powers after witnessing him rescue and revive a drowning girl. From then on, no matter how many times he tells her otherwise, she refuses to listen, insisting that he's just being modest. The conflict increases when she begs him to cure her cancer and stops seeing her doctor and offering him money, again, over his numerous protests. When she inevitably collapses, she and her husband have the gall to blame Russell for supposedly having scammed them, completely overlooking that they ignored his repeated denials.
  • On Patriot Tom Taylor lampshades how this is complicated by Plausible Deniability in the spy business. His plan to buy the election in a foreign country could never be officially sanctioned by the US government so he was told "No" when he proposed it. However, since he was then provided with the resources to implement the plan, it was actually a deniable "Yes". Tom's problem is that the plan has gone sideways and if he goes to his superiors for help they will tell him "No" and this time they will mean it. It will also retroactively turn the previous fake "No" into a real "No" and Tom will be thrown to the wolves as a Rogue Agent. Tom confides all this to a colleague who points out that this is a lot of different meanings of "No" to keep track of and he would not want to have Tom's job.
  • On ER, Carol learns that she's pregnant months after Doug has resigned and left Chicago and sends him a fax to inform him. Mark finds her in the lounge crying and learns that she very adamantly told him that she did not want him to return, but is upset because she thought he would come anyway. Basically, she wanted him to come back, told him otherwise, and is now interpreting him respecting her wishes and not being able to read her mind as proof that he doesn't love her anymore.
  • Strong Medicine. After Dr. Lu Delgado is raped by a colleague, she takes her assailant to court. In her version of events, she claims to have repeatedly said "no" as he kissed, touched, and undressed her. In his version, he freely admits to this but insists that she said it in a playful, flirtatious manner and that he took it as an example of this trope.


    Web Animation 
  • In the "Breaking into the Castle" video from Puffin Forest, Katia instructs Aligaros to stay out of trouble and not cause a scene. Aligaros thinks that she is telling him to do the opposite and she is unable to convince him that she really means what she is says. The video cuts to the whole party getting thrown in a cell and Aligaros still think he did what she wanted so it is all her fault.

    Western Animation 
  • During an episode of Sponge Bob Square Pants, Sandy warns SpongeBob and Patrick not to get in her treedome because she is undergoing hibernation and doesn't want to be disturbed. Despite her warning, Patrick still goes in, reasoning to SpongeBob they should still go inside because she said no and meant yes.
  • Phineas and Ferb Christmas Special: When Carl made a comment on the Sal Tuscanny CD Perry won at O.W.C.A.'s Secret Santa, Major Monogram assumed it was Carl's way to tell he gave the CD. No matter how many times Carl denied being the one who gave it, Monogram wouldn't believe. When it was finally revealed the CD was given by some intruder, Monogram accused Carl of lying about it. Carl tried to point out he never claimed to be the one who gave it but Monogram interrupted him and asked if Carl hasn't caused enough problems.
  • Danger Mouse: The titular character uses opposite meanings to defeat the anti-logic Gremlin in the episode "Gremlin Alert".