It's difficult for any article to stand out amidst the internet's daily whirlwind of eye-catching, inoffensive content, the kinds of posts that compel parents to smash the "share" button on Facebook. That's why the grammar gods gave bloggers the gift of "no."
You see, when strategically placed in a headline, an authoritative "no" can make an otherwise average opinion come off more like the cries of a modern-day John the Baptist surviving on locusts in the wilderness of your Twitter feed. In more subtle deployments, "no" calls to an audience across the web and interpellates them with laser-like accuracy.
It's probably a fruitless endeavour to try and figure out when headlines beginning with the word "no" first became popular. All we know is that right now, they're ubiquitous. Former Gawker editor-in-chief Max Read acknowledged this when he banned the phrase in headlines last year. But elsewhere, the convention persisted.
On any given day, someone, somewhere on the internet, is sending a message out into the world with just a little bit of 'tude, and all it took was two keystrokes. In putting this post together, Motherboard staff assembled a list of hundreds of "No," headlines, which you can check out here.
And so, with 2015 finally and mercifully drawing to a close, here are all the ways that the internet used "No," this year.
No, The Bottom Half Of This Cat Is Not A Chicken
No, the FBI Did Not Liberate the Wu-Tang Clan Album from Martin Shkreli
No, Monsanto Is Not Going On Trial For Crimes Against Humanity
No, the iPhone 6 Is Not Waterproof
No, A Study Did NOT Find That Your Cat Wants To Kill You
No, Cheese Is Not Just Like Crack
No, The 'Blood Moon' Doesn't Mean Doomsday Is Here
No, This Fish Didn't Come Back to Life as a Woman Was Eating It
No, You Can't Make Moonshine Out of Vegemite
No, Planned Parenthood Is Not Selling Aborted Fetal Body Parts
The internet is the breeding ground for an economy of lies. Some sites exist just to make shit up so that people will share it on Facebook, as Caitlin Dewey pointed out in the final post of her column for The Washington Post, "What was fake on the internet this week."
According to Dewey, it's not even that people are gullible anymore—they actually want to believe in false flag ops and fake stories about people they hate. Still, in 2015 bloggers saw an opportunity for some good old fashioned shame-content in almost every hoax, presented with a big, fat "No."
But the usefulness of these sorts of headlines is dubious. If the people who click on hoax articles already believe in that kind of stuff, as Dewey believes, then perhaps the reverse is true: the gullible target of the "No," construction here is only imagined by the reader, who likely already believes that the iPhone 6 isn't waterproof, or that jet fuel actually can in fact melt steel beams.
Basically, it's easy to sell a headline shouting down an imagined horde of idiots who believe that science has gone too far in creating a half-man, half-seagull hybrid… or something or other—if not to an actual audience of self-righteous readers, then to editors in search of more content.
THE SYSTEM WORKS
No, the BRICs Aren't Overtaking America
No, the Front National is Not on the Verge of Taking Power in France
No, States With Higher Gun Ownership Don't Have More Gun Murders
No, Britain Doesn't Need to Pay Reparations for the Slave Trade
No, 'the System' Is Not Broken
No, the System Isn't Broken
No, Donald Trump, Single-Payer Health Care Doesn't 'Work incredibly Well' In Canada & Scotland
No, the US Won't Follow Greece Over the Cliff
No, the Economy Does Not Have a 'Titanic Problem'
No, the U.S. Economy Isn't About to Fall Into Recession
"Shh, little baby, shh," these headlines gently whisper. "Everything is okay. The economy isn't a sham. Fascism and white supremacy aren't on the march. No, socialized medicine isn't working out for those pinkos up north."
As much as "no" is often used in an attempt (even a feeble one) to unsettle the reader, or tell them that something they thought was true in fact isn't, it can also be used to explicitly reinforce the existing biases of an audience and reassure them.
These are troubling times, after all, and some readers are looking for a little positivity, even in content that's packaged to make a negative appeal to them. Instead of debunking myths, this genre of "No," post tends to build them by targeting an assumed anxiety in the reader—that the economy is failing, or safe spaces are taking over campuses, for example—and soothing it.
Well, either soothing or exploiting. Whatever.
No, Melissa Harris Perry, Darth Vader Isn't a Racist Character
No, 'Happy Holidays' isn't a Way of Respecting All Religions
No, It's Not Your Opinion. You're Just Wrong
No, You Can't Distort History
No, the Protesting Missouri Football Players Are Not 'Lazy'
No, Adele Is Not Appropriating Black Music—She's 2015's Celine Dion
No You Don't Need To Buy a Shirt with Kurt Cobain's Suicide Note On It
No, Your Children Aren't Becoming Digital Zombies
No, the Internet Is Not Killing Culture
No, the Dove 'Love Your Curls' Ad Is Not a Feminist Victory
Nothing lends your personal opinion more unearned credibility than an emphatic "No."
In this deployment of the word, a headline with a simple message—say, that you firmly believe pants are just for people, not dogs—that could feasibly be presented without the "no" is given the weight of an imagined collective enemy, similar to the debunking method. Now, you're not just saying that dogs shouldn't wear pants, which, sure. Instead, you're bravely facing an entire group of imagined pro-dog pantsers online and declaring, "No! Pants are For People, Not Dogs."
Hell yes. Fuck yes. Hit that retweet button.
CREATING AN AUDIENCE
No, You Aren't Just Imagining Your Midlife Crisis
No, You're Not Crazy: Netflix Went Down for Awhile
No, You Don't Have to Give Up Your Cat Just Because You're Pregnant
No, You Can't Have It All
No, You Cannot Live in This Unreal Engine 4 Apartment
No, the College Your Kids Go to Won't Decide Their Destiny
No, You Don't Have To Be In Silicon Valley, But You Might Want To Have Some Connections There
No, You Can't Blame Your Belly on Traffic
No, You Can't Divorce-Proof Your Marriage (But Here's What You Can Do Instead)
No, You Can't Hire a Hacker to Erase You From the Ashley Madison Leak
This is perhaps the most interesting aspect of "No," made explicit: the construction of an entire audience of readers. To a certain degree, all examples heretofore discussed use "No," as a sort of dog whistle for a certain kind of reader. But when paired with "you," this function overtakes all others.
In the philosophy of ideology, there's a word for this kind of audience-creating grammatical assumption: interpellation. Proposed by theorist Louis Althusser, the explanatory metaphor is that of a police officer calling out, "Hey, you!" on the street. Even if the call is not meant for you, you intuit that it is and cast yourself in the social position of the hailed and respond in kind. You're already conditioned to respond to the call, even if you don't realize it.
"No, you" is the police officer's "Hey, you!" in the form of a headline you might see scrolling down your Facebook feed. Who is the "you" who might want to have some contacts in Silicon Valley? With a belly they might blame on long commutes? Who might want to divorce-proof their marriage, or who is going through a midlife crisis?
If it is you, you probably already know.