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Quotations about
Saying No & Saying Yes

How difficult it is to say "No!" Perhaps there is no word in the English language more hard to utter at the right moment. ~When to Say "No!", 1861, Jarrold & Sons, London

I say Yes,
Yes to the dance of feet in the Spring,
Yes to the shouts of children,
Yes to Laughter!
~James Oppenheim, "Laughter," War and Laughter, 1916

Overcome temptation in you and around you. Many yield. You are to conquer. How to win this victory:  Learn to say No. ~"Sermonettes for Children," Cut Gems, 1895

1/2 the trouble in this world is caused by saying Yes too quick and the other 1/2 by not saying No quicker. ~Josh Billings, revised by H. Montague, 1913

Ten thousand voices say No, but I come in ten thousands multiples of my strength.
I am my own affirmative that transcends all negatives and denials.
The day renounces me — and I sink my roots deeper into the centuries.
~Muriel Strode (1875–1964), "Songs of the Strong: XV," A Soul's Faring, 1921

Self-respect is the fruit of discipline, the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself... ~Abraham J. Heschel, "Essay on Youth," 1960

1. Don't be afraid to say No.
2. Don't be afraid to say Yes.
~Dr. SunWolf, @WordWhispers, tweet, 2017,

YES  and NO  are very little words, but though small in size they are great in importance, for on the use and abuse of them depends much of our hope and our fear, our joy and our sorrow. ~Religious Tract Society, London, Yes! and No!, 1835

If we would (to use a Scripture phrase) possess our souls — retain, that is, our self-possession, instead of allowing our fellow-men to possess us, or circumstances to control us — we must often say "No." He who yields to every enticement may justly be called "a pitiable atom, the sport of divers and casual impulses." Instead of being like a bird, guiding itself through the air, he is like a feather, driven hither and thither by every changing wind. If we would be fit to live in such a world as this, we must learn to say "No." If we would have peace of mind we must learn to say "No." If we would be happy, we must learn to say "No." ~Samuel Martin, "I Cannot Say 'No'," 1859  [I think he's quoting John Foster. —tg]

When at last she spoke, a little huskily, her voice lowered... "Say…"
"Yes…" he murmured.
~James Oppenheim, The Beloved, 1915

But seeing him all cold and silent still,
      And every body wondering more or less,
Fair Adeline inquired if he were ill?
      He started, and said, "Yes—no—rather—yes."
The family physician had great skill,
      And, being present, now began to express
His readiness to feel his pulse and tell
The cause; but Juan said, "he was quite well."
      "Quite well; yes—no." These answers were mysterious,
      And yet his looks appear'd to sanction both,
However they might savour of delirious;
      Something like illness of a sudden growth
Weigh'd on his spirit, though by no means serious...
~Lord Byron, Don Juan, 1824

I tried to keep my wits about me, and not  to say yes, simply because that was the easiest thing. ~William D. Howells, "Kitty Answers," A Chance Acquaintance, 1873

      Do not confuse "duty" with what other people expect of you... Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily.... the reward is self-respect...
      It is easier to deal with a footpad than it is with the leech who wants "just a few minutes of your time..." Time is your total capital, and the minutes of your life are painfully few... So learn to say No — and to be rude about it when necessary... The termites will nibble away your life and leave none of it for you. ~Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long, 1973

Reader, do you blame me if I said yes? I was young, ardent, ambitious, full of bright hopes and boyish enthusiasm. ~Stephen Leacock, "Soaked in Seaweed: or, Upset in the Ocean," Nonsense Novels, 1911

The ability to say No, to refrain from going with the crowd, to decline to go down-stream, is more than any other one thing in this life, the mark of a strong character. ~William C. Hunter, Dollars and Sense, 1906

Men are strong just in proportion as they have the ability to say NO, and stand by it. ~Elbert Hubbard (1856–1915)

I said no. And no is no. ~Ball of Fire, 1941, screenplay by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, from an original story by Thomas Monroe, spoken by the character Katherine "Sugarpuss" O'Shea

What is prejudice but the failure to say "No" to ingrained and twisted habits of thought? What is cowardice but the failure to say "No" to fear? ~Owen G. Birtwistle, "The Challenge," 1967

"No" is the boiler in which the steam is generated and confined, in order that it may work the engine. Let the steam merely escape at large into the atmosphere, and go where it will, and you may have a pretty and rather attractive-looking cloud, but the engine will not move. If the steam is to do any good, you must say "No" to it when it wants to go out in this direction or that, in order that it may go out in the direction in which it may be of use to you. Without a "No," you cannot have a "Yes." ~Joseph Gough McCormick, "No," 1922

I happen to think that sometimes the biggest risk of all can be the willingness to say no. ~Being Erica, "Cultural Revolution," 2009, written by Karen McClellan [S2, E4, Dr. Tom]

People are always saying no to things, aren't they? They're frightened of change, used to routine, used to doing things a certain way... It's a negative form of thinking. People do miss out on so much by instantly and unthinkingly saying no… They don't realise they're putting a real limitation on their lives. ~Danny Wallace, Yes Man, 2005,

Learn to say No, set your jaws firmly and say No. ~William C. Hunter, Dollars and Sense, 1906

Say yes! ~George Sand, letter to Gustave Flaubert, 1867

He's no man who can't say "No." ~Italian proverb

Learn to say "NO," and it will make a man of you. ~Your Uncle Kris, "Pointlets and Tiplets Sung to Ragtime," 1908

Go with your neighbour as far as good conscience will go with you, but part company where the shoe of conscience begins to pinch your foot... Better offend your acquaintance than lose your character and hazard your soul. Don't be ashamed to walk down Turnagain Lane. Never mind being called a turncoat when you turn from bad courses... Put your foot down where you mean to stand, and let no man move you from the right. Learn to say, "No," and it will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin. ~C. H. Spurgeon, "On Good Nature and Firmness," John Ploughman's Talk; or, Plain Advice for Plain People, 1868

It's so jolly easy to say No in a letter. ~Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)

Dare to do right, dare to be brave,
From sorrow and danger seek others to save...
Dare to do right, dare to say Yes,
Such a reply may some weary heart bless;
Be hopeful and brave till thy journey is done:
With daring and courage life's battles are won.
~Emily Thornton Charles, "To My Son," Hawthorn Blossoms, 1876

As you grow up, learn to say No... for half the young men, and perhaps, also, half the old ones, would be spared days of sorrow and nights of self-reproach if, when Folly said, Come, Wisdom had said, No. ~The Country Pastor, "Youths' Department," in The Quiver, 1862

When you think about it, probably some of the best things that have ever happened to you in life happened because you said yes to something. Otherwise things just sort of stay the same. ~Danny Wallace, Yes Man, 2005,

Dear lady, let thy lips say Yes,
      Consent's sweet word my soul to bless,
      Wreathing with smiles thy sunny face,
      And charming all hearts with thy grace.
Distort not face and mouth with No,
      That blights my life with hopeless woe —
      That chills thy own heart's happy springs,
      And shadows all bright earthly things.
'Twas Yes God spoke, when angels saw
      The universe leap into law —
      Saw light and life, and love, and bloom,
      Consorting, press the world for room.
No was but chaos, when no form
      Could gather, and no heat could warm
      The empty void and boundless cold,
      The nothingness, that naught could mold.
Then, lady, speak that magic word,
      That brings creation in accord,
      Let No not jar, divide, distress,
      But hearts with love melt into Yes.
~Henry Fauntleroy (b.1820), "Yes, and No"

Speak, then, my Angel! How say you? Will you be mine, mine? Or am I a fool for having hoped it?... You love me do you not? Dare you trust me; dare you trust your fate with me, as I trust mine with you? Say Yes! ~Thomas Carlyle, letter to Jane Welsh, 1825

When you would go wrong — say "No!" to yourself!
Each time you resist far stronger you'll be —
Wipe dust from your specks — much clearer you'll see...
~"Learn to Say 'No!'," Scottish Selections, Songs and Miscellaneous Poems by John Imrie, 1906

The sad fact is, saying no had become a habit. ~Danny Wallace, Yes Man, 2005,

"Say yes more," he'd said... Three little words of such power. ~Danny Wallace, Yes Man, 2005,

Geometry he knew by rote,
Like any Harvard Proctor;
He'd sing a fugue out, note by note;
Knew Physics like a Doctor;
He spoke in German and in French;
Knew each Botanic table;
But one small word that you'll agree
Comes pat enough to you and me,
To speak he was not able:
For he couldn't say "No!" He couldn't say "No!"
'Tis dreadful, of course, but 'twas really so,
He would veer like a weather-cock turning so slow;
He'd diddle, and dawdle, and stutter, but oh!
When it came to the point he could never say "No!"
~M. E. B, "He Couldn't Say No," 1800s

Notwithstanding the fact that "yes" may be the sweetest word that ever fell from the lips of mortal, the little word of two letters "no" is the greatest in our language. ~Your Uncle Kris, "Pointlets and Tiplets Sung to Ragtime," 1908

I cannot in conscience say No. Inclination to do everything for the young men prompts me to say Yes; and accordingly I do say Yes. It is only one impediment more between me and the real work I have to do. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, journal, 1850

Small excuses in self-discipline may seem trivial, but they are not. Employed on a small scale successfully we soon find that the word "No" can win large battles as well. ~Owen G. Birtwistle, "The Challenge," 1967

The slipperiest thing in the world is the man who never says no. ~"Poor Richard Junior's Philosophy," The Saturday Evening Post, 1907, George Horace Lorimer, editor

Say no to drugs — say yes to tacos. ~Internet meme

Saying yes to the skinny jeans by saying no to the donuts. ~Betsy Cañas Garmon, @wildthyme, tweet, 2009,

Life's too short to say no to donuts. ~Internet meme

All you who generous wish to be,
Listen awhile and then you'll see,
The result of the tragical history,
Of the man who couldn't say "No."
~J. E. Carpenter, The Sociable Songster, 1867

Watch your boss when you ask him if you can have a day off... "NO," he will say, which accounts for his being boss. Everybody says "yes" to a man who can say "NO." ~Your Uncle Kris, "Pointlets and Tiplets Sung to Ragtime," 1908

...a tremendous temptation. Why am I not ten years younger? Even now I hesitate to say no, and the only reason why I don't say yes, with a roar, is that certain rather serious drawbacks in the way of health of late seem to make me unfit for the various activities... ~William James, letter, 1907

The flower swayed back and forth as though it were trying to say no. ~Dorothy Quick, "Strange Orchids," 1937

Don't feel guilty about saying no to the nonessentials in life! —
      simplicity is
      saying yes to joy
      by saying no to
~Terri Guillemets, "No, thanks," 2002

There are times when we have to say "No" and mean it. In too many areas of modern living, we Americans shrink from the word "No"... ~Owen G. Birtwistle, "The Challenge," 1967

If Mom says no, Grandma will say yes. ~Internet meme

Exercise your backbone and your jawbone, so you can say No and stick to it. ~William C. Hunter, Dollars and Sense, 1906

I sat in my bedroom and found my diary. I got a pen out and started to write down all the things I'd said yes to by just saying no. ~Danny Wallace, Yes Man, 2005,

      Sometimes it seems that we can't say yes to our experience. Perhaps the experience is too powerful or too overwhelming...
      The voice of fear tells us we have reached an edge beyond which we're unwilling to go. Yet, our curiosity tells us to take one more step forward. Fear says no! — it warns us to close and defend; but another part of us says yes! — calling us to open and connect. Saying yes to life means saying yes to everything, even longing, fear, and pain. ~Ezra Bayda, "Curiosity — Saying Yes," Zen Heart: Simple Advice for Living with Mindfulness and Compassion, 2008

"No," he was saying…
"Yes, yes," she went on...
~James Oppenheim, The Beloved, 1915

      "...Do I say yes to just saying no, or do I just say no to saying no? Do I make a stand and say no, or is that exactly what they want?"
      "Or does it mean you should just say no to just saying yes?"
      "Yes. No. I don't know."
~Danny Wallace, Yes Man, 2005,

Therefore virtue also depends on ourselves. And so also does vice. For where we are free to act we are also free to refrain from acting, and where we are able to say No we are also able to say Yes; if therefore we are responsible for doing a thing when to do it is right, we are also responsible for not doing it when not to do it is wrong, and if we are responsible for rightly not doing a thing, we are also responsible for wrongly doing it. But if it is in our power to do and to refrain from doing right and wrong, and if, as we saw, doing right or wrong is being good or bad, it consequently depends on us whether we are virtuous or vicious. ~Aristotle (384–322 BCE), translated by H. Rackham, 1926

Well, Johnson has a will. He can say Yes or No. He can say "I Will," "I Won't." It's the main thing in Johnson, just as it is in everybody — that is, every-human-body. It's what distinguishes us from the animals, this will of ours. ~Charles A. McAlpine, "Fit as a Fiddle," 1922

Say yes or no, as you like. ~Lord Byron, letter, 1817

Some say yes, others no; and as for me, I say both yes and no. ~Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sévigné, letter, 1672

From that first moment of doubt, there was no peace for her; from the time she first imagined leaving her forest, she could not stand in one place without wanting to be somewhere else. She trotted up and down beside her pool, restless and unhappy. Unicorns are not meant to make choices. She said no, and yes, and no again, day and night, and for the first time she began to feel the minutes crawling over her like worms. ~Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn, 1968

So far as man stands for anything, his entire vital function may be said to have to deal with maybes. ~William James, "Is Life Worth Living?," 1895

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published 2022 Dec 25
revised 2023 Feb 15–22
last saved 2023 Oct 25