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Older users of this site may recall the 'Bill & Ted' 'Wayne's World' series of movies of the early 1990s. They were mindless but fairly amusing and their eponymous characters spoke in a unique vernacular, part-stoner, part-surfer, part-moronic generation MTVer. One of the features of this sub-language was the use of the word 'Not' usually written as (NOT), a convention which served to negate the content or validity of what had been said previously.


"I think your wife is very attractive. (NOT)"  


"I love your new hairstyle. (NOT)"

Does anyone know if this usage is a modern invention or whether there are antecedents in ancient or more recent languages which are similarly employed to, wittily or otherwise, invalidate previous statements spoken? I'm not necessarily looking for usages of 'not' itself, but any similar linguistic devices.

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This is not from Bill and Ted, it's from Waynes World – Matt E. Эллен Sep 5 '11 at 21:41
hints to search: At that particular time, the Saturday Night Live skit 'Wayne's World' had become a movie, and was famous for pointedly using the single 'not' construction. I don't remember at the time the Bill and Ted movies (the first one was out in 1989 and WW in 1992) so a confirming quote from either would help. But of course people forget the prior SNL skit from the 70's where Steve Martin used the construction. Before that...I don't have any ideas. – Mitch Sep 5 '11 at 21:48
I seem to remember it wasn't uncommon to append ", I don't think!" as a jocular negating addendum, as far back as the 60s. You often hear "Nah! - Just kidding!" used today to the same effect. But I must admit that (NOT) has overtones of "baby-talk" to me. – FumbleFingers Sep 5 '11 at 22:10
Argh - I think I've just publicly had my first 'senior moment' - of course it was Wayne's World. Yours sheepishly etc., etc. – 5arx Sep 5 '11 at 22:54

3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The Oxford English Dictionary includes this form of not as an interjection, writing:

colloq. [perhaps influenced by nit adv. (see J. T. Sheidlower and J. E. Lighter in Amer. Speech (1993) 68 213–8). In later use, popularized by Mike Myers and Dana Carvey in the ‘Wayne's World’ sketches on the NBC television programme Saturday Night Live from 1989, and especially by the spin-off film Wayne's World in 1992.] Used humorously following a statement to indicate that it should not be taken seriously (usually because the idea expressed is untrue or unlikely to happen), or sarcastically to negate a statement made immediately before.

There are actually uses of this in the 1800s:

[1860 ‘G. Eliot’ Mill on Floss III. vi. vi. 90 She would make a sweet, strange, troublesome, adorable wife to some man or other, but he would never have chosen her himself. Did she feel as he did? He hoped she did—not.]

1888 Cincinnati Times-Star 26 July 2/2 Of course ‘White Wings’ was mourned because he was hissed. Yes he did—not!!!

1893 Princeton Tiger 30 Mar. 103 An Historical Parallel—Not.

After these uses, Wayne's World popularized the phrase in the late 20th century.

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The 1800s usage is distinctly different, insofar as it involves a simple pause in timing before completing the negation of the verb. In Wayne's World, the entire sentence was completed, and the negation happened separately from the verb, so the entire sentence was negated. – Kit Z. Fox Sep 6 '11 at 1:14
The Princeton Tiger (whatever that is) example is no different as I see it. – z7sg Ѫ Sep 6 '11 at 13:16
@z7sgѪ: The Princeton Tiger is a humor magazine written by Princeton University students. – Jon Ericson Feb 9 '12 at 23:13
What does "nit adv." mean in the OED quote? – hippietrail Dec 31 '13 at 3:30
Archie Goodwin, the narrator of the Nero Wolfe novels, uses "not" in this way a couple of times. – user108812 Feb 7 at 0:55

In defense of 5arx's initial association of the interjection "not!" with the Bill & Ted comedy franchise, I note this chronological listing in J.E. Lighter, Random House Dictionary of Historical American Slang (1997):

1991 Bill & Ted's Adventures (CBS-TV): Smooth move, dude! Not! 1992 M. Myers et al. Wayne's World (film): Wayne'll understand that right away. Not!

Still, as simchona points out, Wayne's World is generally credited with the resurgence in popularity of the usage, which in any case is more than 100 years old. In addition to the Princeton Tiger instance that simchona cites, Lighter notes such modern-sounding instances as these two:

1905 E.P. Butler, in Amer. Magazine (Sept.) 499: Cert'nly, me dear frind, Flannery. Delighted. Not! 1908 in Canemaker W. McCay 75: That confounded rarebit I making me sleep lovely. NOT!!!

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No. I used to hear it in a somewhat simliar teenager-themed skit on SNL with its first cast back in the late '70's. (Gilda Radner played "Lisa Loopner" and Bill Murray played a nerdy boy named "Todd").

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