April 23, 2013 § Leave a comment
Why do people use “Nope” even though “No” is easier to say and shorter to spell?
This is an example of sound change.
No, particularly when said in isolation, and abruptly, ends in a glottal stop – you can feel your glottis (vocal chords) closing, if you pay attention. Glottal stop is easily confusable with the standard English sounds p, t and k. When you combine this with the rounding of the lips from the o sound, you get something more p-like versus k-like. (Note the position of the lips w/ a p; in contrast, many languages had glottal stop ~ k sound changes, e.g., Hawaiian).
This results in acoustic cues at the end of no that make it sound like maybe possibly there is a p at the end. Some people misperceive that as a full-on p then start purposefully adding the p and the rest is history(cal linguistics).
More generally, it’s likely incorrect to presume that language has an explicit drive towards being easier. Rather, there are tangible forces at play that result in it generally being easier, but not always (e.g., nope).
EDIT: This reply got far more attention than I would have ever expected given what I thought was an otherwise obscure topic. And while I was on vacation, no less. So, I’d like to circle back and expand on the answer and provide a much more thoughtful reply that includes other hypotheses that we might want to consider…
Another thing we can do is look at when nope and yup started appearing in the English language. If nope came far earlier, then it would suggest the acoustics of no is important. Recall that I suggested that yup came about as analogy with nope. There is no phonetic way to get p from yes. So, if they came about in tandem, it would suggest sound symbolism. If yup came first, it’s back to the drawing board. What sayeth the OED? Nope first attested in 1888. Yup is 1906 – a decent gap. But wait, what have we here? Yep, attested 1891. read more