I went out to dinner the other night in Tempe. The waitress was very cheerful. I asked if she had ginger ale. She smiled at me, the way people who say yes smile. “I sure don’t,” she said. Coming down hard on the word sure and smiling even harder.

When I grew up in NY I never encountered the I-sure-don’t construction. When people meant “no,” they said “no.”But I have encountered I sure don’t many times in the West.

Help me here. Why do some people express a negative, “No, we do not have ginger ale,” with a false positive, “I sure don’t?”

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  1. Stan

    Its meant to say “We never have”..as in ,its not temporary out of stock or even “We can get some” from a store across the street. I other words, you picked the wrong place for Ale.

    March 9th, 2013 12:24 pm

  2. Bob In Portland

    I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half past dead
    I just need some place where I can lay my head
    “Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?”
    He just grinned and shook my hand, “no” was all he said

    March 9th, 2013 1:46 pm

  3. A

    How is “I sure don’t” a positive statement? Maybe if you interpret “sure” in the sense of “yes” or “okay,” as in “Sure, I watch the NFL.” But in this context it’s an intensifier / qualifier working adverbially, as in “I definitely don’t” or “I certainly don’t.”

    And what is a linguistic “false positive” here? I’ve only ever seen that phrase used to describe statistical false positives, e.g. in biopsy results.

    What’s more interesting and less linguistic is the pretty frightening smile on the waitress’s face. I don’t know as much about that, though.

    March 9th, 2013 2:28 pm

  4. Jim

    When I worked in retail in the ’80′s we were trained not to used negatives in response to the question of if we carried something. It is a closed ended question and response. I would want to answer with an alternative to keep the customer in the shop.

    March 9th, 2013 2:29 pm

  5. Sean Nolan

    It’s aggressively saying two things: you’re a fool asking for ginger ale AND don’t ask for any further explanation.

    Also a bullying answer to a simple question.

    March 9th, 2013 3:23 pm

  6. lameduck

    It’s the negative of I sure do.

    March 9th, 2013 8:32 pm

  7. Neal

    lowell and his Seinfeld posts

    March 9th, 2013 9:03 pm

  8. Mike in N. Oakland

    In my tech support job, we have a “soft skills” training on how to deal with clients. We were told we could not use the word “no”. So have to come up with a way to do it rather than say that word (like what Jim said).

    March 9th, 2013 10:03 pm

  9. Ralph Bedwell

    It’s just a cultural difference. A direct “no” in one region can be perfectly neutral, but to a person from another it can sound rude. “I sure don’t” is a way to say “no” without sounding so blunt. It is intended to be friendly, as if the person is saying that they don’t have it, but wish they did so they could get you what you want.

    March 9th, 2013 10:16 pm

  10. Johnc

    ” sure don’t” is incorrect grammar. It would be correct if she said I surely don’t have any ginger ale. The adverb surely modifies the verb. Sure is an adjective and in this context is used improperly.
    I ain’t got nuthin else to say.

    March 10th, 2013 12:30 am

  11. Rap49er

    Slow sports day?

    March 10th, 2013 10:17 am

  12. CohnZohn

    Rap49er, Get this. I felt like writing on this topic.

    March 10th, 2013 10:18 am

  13. glenellen

    If it’s a bar it is easy to make ginger ale.
    -7 up
    -a nice splash cola
    -a few drops of bitters

    The best darn Ginger Ale.

    March 10th, 2013 12:38 pm

  14. dutch

    its a different world out here lowell,not better or worse, just different.

    March 10th, 2013 8:42 pm

  15. KauaiRobert

    I can’t believe you don’t speak Redneck, Lowell.
    Get with the program!

    March 11th, 2013 2:14 pm

  16. Streetglide

    I sure don’t know what the problem is with her answer. And surely you didn’t take it as such, becuase you sure do understand things ar a bit different in Temp. Then again, don’t be too sure of it.


    March 11th, 2013 2:34 pm

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