Q: I was listening to a TED talk the other day when the presenter mentioned a few things and then said, “I want to talk about none of that.” Shouldn’t it be “I don’t want to talk about any of that”? It just struck me as odd. Hoping you can help.
A: There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I want to talk about none of that,” though (as you suggest) it may be more idiomatic in some cases to say, “I don’t want to talk about any of that” or “I don’t want to talk about any of those things.”
You probably wouldn’t find it odd, for example, to hear something like this: “At times I’ve felt all of that, and at other times I’ve felt none of that.”
Or something like this: “The pro at the golf club wanted to change Ben’s swing, stance, and grip, but he was having none of that.”
It seems to us that the use of “none” in those two examples (and perhaps in that TED talk) accentuates the negative.
For readers who are unfamiliar with TED, it’s a nonprofit group (the acronym stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design) that arranges conferences and makes talks available on video.
The word “none,” by the way, is one of the oldest English words and one of the most misunderstood.
A lot of people mistakenly believe that it’s always singular and always means not one. In fact, it’s usually plural and usually means not any (of a number of people or things), according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
In Origins of the Specious, our book about language myths, we say “none” has been both singular and plural since Anglo-Saxon days:
“Alfred the Great used it as a plural back in the ninth century, when he translated a work by the Roman philosopher Boethius. Although the OED lists numerous examples of both singular and plural ‘nones’ since Alfred’s day, it says plurals have been more common, especially in modern times.”
If you’d like to read more about “none,” we’ve discussed it on the Language Myths page of our website as well as on the blog. And we had a posting last year about “having none of it.”
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