Don't let's

William Salmon william.salmon at YALE.EDU
Thu Jan 17 16:59:15 UTC 2008

> This is not a request for permission (as in "Don't let us..."), but a
> suggestion.  (Note too the contrast between "Don't let's X" and
> "Let's Y", the latter being the positive suggestion.)  My claim is
> that "Don't let's" can *never* be understood in the former way.  I
> grant that many speakers don't get it "Don't let's X" (as a
> paraphrase of "Let's not X"), but those who get it at all--Noel
> Coward, Bette Davis, me--get it *only* in that sense, never as a
> request to a third party to deny permission to a group including the
> speaker and some second party to X.

I'm not sure this last claim holds for the vegetative variant on the
form, as in "don't lettuce". Here's a google example:

You probably confused the poor guy with your rainbow sweatshirt. But
don't lettuce stop you going back...

Sorry... back to work now!

> This is an empirical claim; as
> I said above, I'll welcome refutation if someone can provide an
> attestation of "Don't let's" with the request-for-prohibition
> meaning, which seems as unlikely to me as "Let's" meaning 'Allow us
> to'.  (The*un*contracted forms, "Let us" and "Don't let us", can be
> interpreted either way, but the contracted ones only as lexicalized
> suggestions.)
> LH

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