Do You Speak Seattle? Nineteen Ways To Say No


Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Seattleites are too polite to say No, just as the British prefer their shows with no sex. So we’ve developed as many euphemisms and stalls as the Inuits legendarily have for the word “snow.” You may be new to town, so here’s a handy compendium of ways to say No without quite saying No.

  • “Sounds very interesting, but we’d have to hire a consultant and study it before I can give you an answer.”” (Popular with politicians.)
  • “Words fail me.” Musicians have developed this evasion as a way of supporting a colleague after s/he has just played a really bad performance.
  • “I’ll get back to you, but I’m really super-busy just now.” (Use body language to convey how much more important you are than the schmuck who asks.)
  • “I like what you say, but I would need a full proposal.”
  • “Who else agrees with you?” Followed by, “Never heard of him. Anybody else?”

Then there’s the envelope trick, an advanced move perfected by former Gov. Al Rosellini. Old Al would carefully tuck an envelope in his pocket each morning. When a supplicant would press a case, Al would slowly take out his envelope, write a phrase or two on it, carefully put it back in his pocket, and pat it three times. He threw out that envelope each night. 

  • “I don’t know how you keep coming up with so many great ideas. I never could.” (Worked well with Mayor Paul Schell.)
  • To break off a conversation fast, two good ones: “Gotta run for the ferry.” Or (on phone), “The dog just threw up!”
  • Set an impossibly high bar. “Come back when you’ve raised $100,000 for that idea, and then we’ll talk.” (Good for book publishers.)
  • “Let me run that by my people. They’re much smarter than me.”
  • Faint praise: “Some parts of that I could really get behind.” (Do not name the parts.)
  • “Yes, but not this year. Do check back later.”
  • Deflect to a principle. “I totally agree with you that the arts are essential.”
  • “That’s been tried in Dusseldorf, but it didn’t work out.” (An obscure city or nation makes it impossible to check.)
  • “Have you considered your ‘positionality’?” (Undermine the speaker’s standing as you also imply your moral superiority. Alternatively, “That’s a rather privileged thing to say.”)
  • “How do you know that?” (Said with a semi-smile.)
  • “You MAY be right.” (Practice the inflection.) Same with “THAT’s a new one!”
  • “I’d have to check with my spouse, since we make all such decisions jointly, and she’s currently cruising in the Antarctic.”
  • “Ordinarily…” (Work on the pause.)
David Brewster
David Brewster
David Brewster, a founding member of Post Alley, has a long career in publishing, having founded Seattle Weekly, Sasquatch Books, and His civic ventures have been Town Hall Seattle and FolioSeattle.


  1. One reader comments that Seattleites also cannot really say yes and mean it. Does that mean we’re a Maybe Metro? I remember a writer for Seattle Weekly who observed that the custom in Seattle, since everybody says “we must have you over for dinner,” without meaning it, means that when someone does invite you you say yes, with mild enthusiasm, and then don’t show up. A more advanced bit of passive aggressiveness is that when the guests do show up, you’re not at home.

  2. For those of us on Bainbridge, I concede that saying we need to run for the ferry can be very effective.

  3. One other sure-fire way to sorta-say No is this one: “I love your idea, but we’re in the middle of strategic planning right no, so I have to wait to see if your idea fits.”


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