Why “No smoking” works but “Yes smoking” doesn’t?

No smoking is a formula used to indicate smoking is not allowed.

Why can’t we use Yes smoking to indicate smoking is allowed? (Although, we might use humorously but I’ve never heard actually.)

Unlike yes, no can also be an adverb of degree and an adjective.

Here is the etymology of the adjective no from OED:

Variant of none adj. with loss of final -n, used originally before consonants except h, which ultimately became the standard form of the negative determiner except in archaic or poetic use.

Here is an explanation of the adjective (determiner) none from OED:

In later use the form none (or nane, etc.) occurs mainly before vowels and h, and after 1600 is almost entirely supplanted by the reduced form no (nae, etc.): exceptions are the phrase none effect and before other (see sense A. 2, where its survival may be due to interpreting other as postmodifying a pronominal none).

The earliest example where no denotes that something is forbidden or unwelcome is from a1625 according to OED:

Swet. Mercy yet. Bond. No talking: puff, there goes all your pitie.

J. Fletcher Bonduca iv. iv, in F. Beaumont & J. Fletcher Comedies & Trag. (1647) 65

No smoking is a phrase but can be used as an attributive adjective also.

The earliest example of No smoking as a phrase is from 1837 (OED):

No smoking aloud in the cabing [sic]!

W. G. Clark Ollapodiana xxi, in Knickerbocker Dec. 520

The earliest example of No smoking as an adjective is from 1944 (OED):

I wanted to smoke, but fell asleep before the No Smoking sign was switched off.

J. Gunther D Day i. 13,

Etymonline has the following for no-smoking (adj.):

1905; the sign wording itself is attested by 1817.

Smoking is a vice to [sic] — and a national one, of such magnitude that railroad corporations throughout all their routes in the United States, have a special command in large letters, conspicuously placed at depots and inside of the cars — “No smoking allowed here.” [“The Sailor’s Magazine,” December 1840]

I’ve tried to answer my own question and it can be useful for other people but I would like to get some further information on this.

The original sense of the adjective no is not any. I wonder how it evolved to be used in the phrases like no smoking, no pets etc.

Also, “Yes smoking” could be a useful shortcut but didn’t become a set phrase. It is related to yes not being an adjective but language evolves. It can be explained regarding evolutionary linguistics as well.

I think we will stick to “Smoking allowed” for now.


No as an adjective is used to negate the default state of affirmation.
Negation and affirmation are not perfectly equal opposites: in general, a mentioned thing is presumed to exist or be true unless it is explicitly negated. This is admittedly a convention rather than an underlying natural law, but it’s one that goes very deep and crosses many cultures and disciplines.

In logic, for example, the statement


is true if x itself is false, and false if x is true. The function word NOT performs the negation. To create the corresponding affirmative statement, we need no function word, and the statement is simply:


which is true if x is true, and false if x is false. Likewise, in programming, a code block that begins with

if (foo)

executes if the variable foo evaluates to true, and does not execute if the variable evaluates to false. Affirmation is the default state, so we do not need an additional operator to “toggle” the state to affirmation. If we want the opposite to occur, we must use a negation operator:

if (!(foo))

where the ! character serves the same purpose as NOT, or as the adjective form of no.

So the reason we don’t use yes as an adjective is because it’s not needed: its function is served by the absence of no. Now, it’s true that a sign that merely says “Smoking” may not be well understood, but that’s only because “No Smoking” is not a complete sentence. When we see a “No Smoking” sign, we understand that the message it’s really conveying is “No smoking is allowed”–and of course we don’t need any form of yes to convey the opposite message, “Smoking is allowed.”

Source : Link , Question Author : ermanen , Answer Author : phenry

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