27 August, 2006

No X, no Y

Spinning off from yesterday's title, I note that David Beaver writes about 'No X, no Y' constructions in this post at Language Log. Such constructions can either be conditional ('No shoes, no service' = 'If you have no shoes, then you get no service'), or conjunctive ('No retreat, no surrender' = 'No retreat and no surrender'). 'No pain, no gain' is obviously of the former type. John Cowan neatly illustrates this grammatical ambiguity with his post on 'No cross, no crown', the original meaning of which was conditional: 'If you don't suffer [cross], then you won't succeed [crown]', but which has been reinterpreted as conjunctive: 'Don't talk about religion [cross], and don't talk about politics [crown]'. One phrase, two uses: blessed tongue.

Incidentally, one well-known phrase that Beaver doesn't mention is the Bob Marley song-title, 'No Woman No Cry', which I'd always assumed to be a conditional: 'Don't have a woman? Don't be sad!' In fact, it is neither conditional nor conjunctive, but as we all now know, just picturesque Rastafarian English: 'No, Madam, Don't Cry'.


Matt said...

Personally I'd always assumed that it was conjunctive: "If you don't have a woman, you'll have no cause to cry." I never could square that with the content of the verses. I feel quite embarrassed now.

FSJL said...

It isn't particularly Rastafarian. It is a straightforward sentence in Jamaican Creole: 'No, ooman, nuh cry.' Or, in standard English: 'No, woman, don't cry.'

John Cowan said...

I fear our Conrad has been led into the fallacy of confounding Hindu with Hindi, as it were.