The one word we refuse to say

There’s a word that we hate to use. It’s not offensive and it wouldn’t be bleeped on Jerry Springer (Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!), but I would venture to guess that it gets used less than all of those types of words. What is it?


We avoid saying no like we avoid eye contact in the liquor store. We stay away from it like the person coughing their head off on the subway train. We hate saying it. I’m not suggesting that we don’t communicate the concept of no, but we rarely say the word.

In the last few days, think about how many times you’ve said the word “no” as the answer to a question.

Now, think about how many times you answered a question and meant no, but used a different word to get the message across…

Got ‘em!

Saying no without saying “no” has developed into a highly-defined skill. We have so many different ways of blowing people off it has become a borderline art form. Here are a few examples…

1. “Maybe.” This is the classic “no” replacement. People have been subtly rejecting other people with the “maybe” response for centuries. The problem is that it’s become synonymous with no. Even if you really mean maybe now, the person you’re responding to won’t believe it. We’ve ruined the true use of the word. We rely on the wisdom of Jack Johnson every time: “it seems to me that maybe, it pretty much always means no.” A cousin of the “maybe” no is the “we’ll see” no. I used this one with my children for a long time until one day, when I said it to my daughter, she walked away and I heard her say to my son, “He said ‘we’ll see’ and that means ‘no.”’ Ouch.

Worst use: Sister: “I need a bone marrow transplant or else I won’t live. And you’re a perfect match. Will you help me?” Brother: “Maybe.”

2. “I’ll try.” This is the fake effort response. It seems so hard-working and almost noble. You’re actually going to make an effort to come to the party, to be at their wedding, to join her for her jewelry/purse/makeup pyramid scheme gathering. The problem is…you’re not really going to try. You just didn’t want to say no. That way, they won’t be disappointed immediately. That letdown will be delayed until they’re sitting around with too many triangle sandwiches and enough leftover punch to drown a camel. I’m reminded of the words of the great warrior-poet, Yoda, who said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Worst use: Wife: “I’ve got the C-section scheduled for this Friday morning. Will you cancel your tee time?” Husband: “I’ll try.”

3. “I’m good.” This is the cutting edge of alternate “no’s.” It’s only been in use for a short time. It really confused me at first when people started responding to me this way. “I’m good.” Oh, you’re good? Glad to hear that, but what I wanted to know is if you would like some more cheese puffs. The “I’m good” response sounds so positive and confident. It almost makes me admire you for rejecting me.

Worst use: Boyfriend: “I’ve loved you since the moment I laid eyes on you. Will you marry me?” Girlfriend: “I’m good.”

What’s the big deal? It’s just semantics and if it eases the brunt of rejection in the short term, then no harm done, right? Well, maybe…

It seems to me that living with honor should change the way we view what we say. Our words matter, because they reflect the state of our heart. And our heart is the most critical part of us. The best way to live, and the most healthy thing for our relationships, is to say what we mean and mean what we say. We’re not going to get it right every time, but we can start heading in the right direction by being honest with people when they ask us simple yes or no questions.

And if saying “no” leads you to a disagreement or fight, well, there’s always Springer…

Post to Twitter

About the Author



  1. Shawn Wood

    This made me laugh:)….. and it is true!

  2. Great post Mark. I love reading posts about honor from men. It seems like no one ever talks about this anymore. I think it is a crisis of a non-committal culture. No one wants to ever commit to anything these days. At the same time, they want to keep the door open in case they have nothing else to do.

    We need to hold each other accountable and put some integrity back in our words. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Leigh Spell

    Reading this, I realized 2 things. The first being, that this is so true. The second thing, it made me realize how much i’ve MISSED your words of wisdom over the last 5 years. Hope that you and the family are doing great.

    • Hey Leigh! Thanks so much for your kind and thoughful words. It’s great to hear from you. My family and I are doing well. Hope things are good with you!