Does No sometimes mean Any? "I wouldn't do no lady that way." According to the context, I think the guy means "I wouldn't do any lady that way."This is quoted from O Henry's The Brief Debut of...

Does No sometimes mean Any? "I wouldn't do no lady that way." According to the context, I think the guy means "I wouldn't do any lady that way."

This is quoted from O Henry's The Brief Debut of Tildy, the ending part when Mr. Seeders tries to explain why he embraced and kissed Tildy.

Similar usage occurs in many other novels. For instance, in Hearts and Crosses, at the first part Baldy says, "It's a title, up among the picture cards; but it don't take no tricks I'll tell you, Webb. ..."

Thank you very much.

Expert Answers
clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hah - you are exactly right - in your correction of these sentences.  These are examples in English of what we call "Double negatives."  It is not an English grammar "trick."  It is an English grammar ERROR.

The correct way to say the first sentence is, "I would do no lady that way."  or "I wouldn't do any lady that way."  The presence of would not and no makes the negatives cancel each other out.

Sadly, in spoken English, double negatives have become so commonplace - that they are often overlooked.  In the context above - for both examples - the author is clearly using "dialect" - likely the characters speaking are supposed to appear rough or less educated.

Frequently in my classroom I hear, "I didn't do no homework last night."  My students never understand that by not doing no homework - it means they did some homework.  At this point, the explanation is hardly worth the time - but I'm proud of you for catching this... if English isn't your first language - you already sound better prepared for the real world than many who have been speaking it since infancy!