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I am curious as to why "nay" replaces the simple unequivocal "no" in the context of voting.

My research in Merriam-Webster tells me that "nay" means "no" (not the other way around) and the first known use of "nay" appeared in 1400s. Since the use of "no" existed before 1400 and the word remains to be used afterward, why would "nay" become the preferred choice of word when it comes to voting. Any idea?

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Not in the UK's House of Commons, where those in favour of a motion say 'Aye', and those against say . . . 'No'. –  Barrie England Jan 3 '13 at 14:10
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@BarrieEngland: "The eyes to the left... the nose to the right..." –  Hugo Jan 3 '13 at 14:32
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1 Answer

Apparently, Early Modern English had a four-form system of yes and no, where yes and no were used to answer negatively phrased questions (e.g., "Will he not go?") whilst yea and nay were used to answer positively phrased questions (e.g., "Will he go?"). Since the sort of questions voted on by assemblies are positively phrased, I'd imagine that the legislative use of yea and nay is a relic of this earlier usage.

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Hugely related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/28581/… –  Andrew Leach Jan 3 '13 at 14:42
    
Indeed it is! The comparison to the situation in French and German is very much worth thinking about. –  Branimir Ćaćić Jan 3 '13 at 14:50
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