"What part of no don't you understand?"

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Jun 24 15:49:44 UTC 2012

The 1994 book might have been a vector, but I associate this phrase,
along with "No means no!", with anti-date-rape campaign on college
campuses that started in full somewhere in 1985-6 (some local campaigns
likely date earlier, but this is when it became national). So 1989 Nexis
date sounds just about right. But I'm not even sure that's the "origin".
I expect that the companion "No means no!" reaches at least into the
1970s, at least in its association with anti-rape messages, but it also
appears that Dear Abby column might have served as a vector (in broader
circumstances) in the early 1980s, followed by Susan Estrich's book
"Rape" in 1987. In either case, the phrase was already established.

In fact, the phrase itself is older.

The Court Says 'No' Means 'No'
  Pay-Per-View -
Christian Science Monitor - May 17, 1961
The United States Supreme Court has refused to review a decision of the
Vermont Supreme Court against payment from public funds of tuition for
high school ...

ABA Journal. Volume 49 (5). May 1963
The Regents' Prayer Case: In the Establishment Clause "No Means No". By
William J. Butler. p. 444
> The Constitution says that the government shall take no part in the
> establishment of religion. No means no.

Gaining Equal Rights Means A Struggle For All Women [Dear Abby]
Pittsburgh Press - May 12, 1980. P. A-14/5
> DEAR ABBY: If you could give the young parents of today just one piece
> of advice, what would it be? -- NEW MOTHER
> Start early. By consistent. A child must learn that no means no. It
> doesn't mean maybe. And maybe doesn't mean yes.

Grandma Must Learn To Say No [Dear Abby]
Tuscaloosa News - Oct 21, 1982. P. 6/2
> DEAR MOM: Your problem is not your sons, it's you! You haven't learned
> how to say no to your sons and make it stick. Start now to say no with
> a firmness and conviction leaves absolutely no doubt that your no
> means NO, and no "maybe" or "yes."

As for "What/which part of no don't you understand?", St Louis
Post-Dispatch appears to have one in the archives from 1989:

St. Louis Post-Dispatch : Bond Issue For Water Passes, But...
$2.95 -
St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Feb 9, 1989
''I've had quite a few people approach me and ask which part of 'No' I
didn't understand.'' But he said he would approach the board tonight
with a plan to ...

Aside from that, GNA also finds a bunch of hits from 1991-2, where the
phrase is associated with "buttons and bumper stickers" and
"demonstrators". But not all of them identify it as an anti-rape slogan
(taxes being the other big "NO!" issue). For example,

What The Men In Power Don't Get .
St. Petersburg Times - Oct 8, 1991. P. 1/6
> There's this motto popping up on buttons and bumper stickers that
> says: what part of NO don't you understand?" Perhaps we are ready to
> print another, and wear it around Washington, "What part of sexual
> harassment don't you understand?"

There are four GNA hits from 1991, starting on March 15. But what is
clear is that 1994 is much too late.


On 6/24/2012 9:21 AM, Shapiro, Fred wrote:
> What is this citation the effective origin of?  Nexis shows the phrase in use back to 1989.
> Fred Shapiro
> ________________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Jonathan Lighter [wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM]
> Sent: Sunday, June 24, 2012 9:05 AM
> Subject: "What part of no don't you understand?"
> Asked sarcastically.
> The effective origin appears to be:
> 1994 Dennis G. Korby _What Part of No Don't You Understand?: Avoiding and
> Defending Against Rape_ (Livonia, Mich.: Koto Press). (Published July 1.)
> The GB distribution suggests that the phr. was flourishing by 2000.
> JL

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