I’ve been thinking a lot about how imprecise “yes” and “no” answers can be. Here’s what I mean:
FRIEND: “Do you think we’ll make it to the move in time for the previews?”
Here’s how yes and no translate to numbers:
Yes | 51–100%
No | 0–49%
My friend asked me a yes-or-no question, and my response was “Yes.”, which is a direct answer to the question, but it could mean a wide range of things. I could be saying, “We’ll definitely be there for the previews!” or I could be saying, “I think it’s more likely than not that we will be there for the previews.”
Although there are only two answers, each answer can mean many things, which means “yes” and “no” are actually pretty vague answers.
I think we all intuitively sense this, and that’s why most of us wouldn’t just say “yes” or “no” to that question.
If a friend asked me the question above I might respond with “Probably!” or “Probably not.” or “I think so!” or “I doubt it.” or something like that.
Although those answers are still one word or just a few words, they convey a lot more meaning.
Those answers encapsulate two ideas:
- Whether I think we’ll be there in time for the previews
- How confident I am in my answer
Here’s what I mean…
Question: “Are we going to make it to the movie in time for the previews?”
A hundred percent! | 100%
I’m pretty sure! | 80%
Probably! | 75%
Probably. | 65%
I think so! | 60%
I think so. | 55%
I think so? | 51%
Maybe. | 50%
I don’t think so? | 49%
I doubt it. | 45%
Probably not. | 35%
I doubt it! | 25%
I don’t think so! | 20%
Now way, LOL | 0%
And of course those interpretations will vary by person, culture and many other criteria.
It’s also interesting how the punctuation—how emphatically we give our answer—can make a difference. “I don’t think so!” (with an exclamation point) seems more pessimistic than “I don’t think so.” (with a period).
One last thought: I struggled to come up with “yes” answers for 80% and 100%, and “no” answers for 0% and 20%. Maybe my vocabulary just isn’t strong enough, but it seems like that’s sort of a gap in the English language.
It’s fascinating how many things we can say with so few words.