That line comes from Kipling's famous "Smugler's song"


Don't you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one's been!

However i totally can not parse it! I understand every word per se but i can not link them together in sone meaningful in the context way.

Seems, Kipling in this poem used either outdated English, or dialectical, or just dropped half the words, dunno.

Even that "yet" - should it mean "no one yet been" or "don't you yet tell" ?

Literally, this should mean the girl should not report the locations where no person currenty is present, like every empty rooms, empty fields, abandoned ruins, etc. However such a broad and vague interpretation obviously makes no sense.

I am trying to parse this line and fail miserably.

  • 1
    If we start with "no one" ... this is often used in colloquial English where we would more formally use "anyone". For example, "Don't tell no one" (or "Don't tell nobody") might be used in spoken English instead of "Don't tell anyone" (or "anybody"). "Yet" is a slightly archaic way of saying "even". So, in summary: "Don't say where anybody is (now), or even where they have been (before)". Does that help? – user184130 May 22 '18 at 22:08
  • Did you know that "to tell" means to be a tattletale?? It's "uneducated" register. Yes. – Lambie May 22 '18 at 22:25
  • @Lambiq this is the first time i see "tattletale" word :-) But sure, "tell" means conveying some specific information, one way or another, when compared with relaxed vaguye verb like say/speak and such. – Arioch 'The May 22 '18 at 22:44
  • @NigelJ unless the poetry is a meaningless abstract sequence of sounds made for mere sound of them - there still is some sense in the text. Which, hence, can be parsed. Afterall this poem imitate some street-speak of the time and the place. And definitely it was expected other people then and there could understand exact meaning. – Arioch 'The May 22 '18 at 22:46
  • BTW, the closing line later goes A present from the Gentlemen, along o' being good! and the last part seems to be lost to many readers too (definitely for me). For example half places quote o' and half - 'o. I even met a funny version"...gentlemen, no longer being good" :-D – Arioch 'The May 22 '18 at 22:50

Read the previous verse carefully.

If you see the stable-door setting open wide; If you see a tired horse lying down inside; If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore; If the lining’s wrt and tore - don’t you ask no more.

The girl mustn’t see anything. And yes, dialect, including the use of double negatives, is being used. The smugglers are secret and dangerous people. No one must see them - even when they do see them. Even when, as in the above stanza, the evidence is there to be seen that her father is a smuggler - the tired horse and torn coat -, she must not see what she has seen. So

Don't you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one's been!

So the no one is the person (her father) she deep down knows is at home but must not know is there when the excise men (King George’s men) come knocking and ask her.

The whole thing gives an aura of secretive danger.

  • 1
    @Arioch'The The Oxford online dictionary gives at the end the phrase “nor yet” as meaning “and also not”, giving a range of examples. – Tuffy May 22 '18 at 22:48
  • Yes; I was about to query @James Random's claim that 'nor yet' has to mean 'nor even'. I'm not sure it can't be either. But you've correctly added a supporting reference. I'd upvote if I didn't consider the question too broad to answer on ELU. – Edwin Ashworth May 22 '18 at 23:56

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