"Say less"

« previous post | next post »

Over the past decade or so, "say less" has spread as a substitute for "say no more". Here's part of a Facebook ad from a Bellvue WA restaurant — "Soup Dumpling Delivery, say less!":

The Urban Dictionary entries along similar lines go back to 2011.

A YouTube search turns up quite a few "Say Less" music videos. This 2018 Hypebeast interview with Roy Woods, about his 2017 album Say Less, attributes the expression to Toronto street slang, maybe with a West Indies origin:

The Toronto accent is one that you have to hear to fully understand — drawing influence from the city’s sizeable West Indies population and combining elements of street slang and patois sprinkled with slight rising intonations. When asked to explain the meaning behind the title of his first album Say Less, Roy Woods’s Toronto accent becomes even more pronounced than usual. It’s the same phenomenon kids of immigrants will be familiar with, when our parents’ tone and pronunciation seem to switch up without missing a beat based on their levels of joy or, more likely, sternness. But when Roy speaks about Toronto, it’s only pride.

“’Say less’ means kind of… ‘I understand,’” he explains. “You understand what the person is telling you already: ‘Say less fam; Imma do it.’ Do more instead of just talking about doing things. That’s why I always say less: I hate it when people say things and their actions don’t own up to it. I want to see the work. Don’t tell me; show me. Say less fam!”

Woods'  interpretation lies somewhere in between "say no more" and "shut up already", but the broader uptake seems to shift towards the positive valence, as in this meme:


An earlier (?) development along the same lines turned "shut up!" into a positive expression of (real or feigned) amazement.

And the interpretation of "say no more" as a sign of understanding, which the OED dates to the 16th century, is of course also similar.



  1. Scott Mauldin said,

    April 2, 2022 @ 6:22 am

    This strikes me as just "wrong" in my personal ideolect. To say "less" would have to mean "take back some of the words you have already said", implying that what was said was hurtful or insulting. If I heard it or used it, it would be in a scolding way, à la "you're putting your foot in your mouth, shut up".

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    April 2, 2022 @ 7:47 am

    A question and a comment.

    Q. What does Roy Woods mean by "switch up" in " when our parents’ tone and pronunciation seem to switch up without missing a beat based on their levels of joy or, more likely, sternness" ?

    C. "Say less" reminds me of my former college motto (Bedford College, University of London) : Esse quam videri.

  3. Bartleby said,

    April 2, 2022 @ 1:43 pm

    Less is more.

  4. Rick Rubenstein said,

    April 2, 2022 @ 5:23 pm

    …smile more.

  5. T Arnold said,

    April 2, 2022 @ 8:46 pm

    Recently appears in Atlanta S3E3, Al responding to Fernando: "Hey man, say less." I would suggest it carries something more like "Tell me about it" or "No kidding," not exactly "Say no more" (especially because "say no more" now often precedes doing something that is implicitly requested).

  6. William Berry said,

    April 2, 2022 @ 9:54 pm

    This reminds me of the time one of my grandchildren (maybe four years old) was lectured by his father for doing something risky while playing.

    He didn’t care for the dressing-down at all. Shaking his head vigorously, he shouted: “Say something else”!

  7. John Swindle said,

    April 3, 2022 @ 11:52 pm

    @Philip Taylor: According to the Cambridge Dictionary online, "switch up" is "informal mainly US" and means "to change, usually in a way that brings an improvement." I don't recall hearing it used in central US (mid-20th century) or Hawaii (20th-21st centuries).

  8. Philip Taylor said,

    April 4, 2022 @ 2:26 am

    Thank you John.

  9. Michael Watts said,

    April 5, 2022 @ 7:05 am

    I agree with Scott Mauldin; "less" and "no more" don't even mean similar things. 5 is no more than 5, but 5 is not less than 5.

    I would interpret "say less" as a very rude way to say "you talk too much".

  10. Dan Curtin said,

    April 6, 2022 @ 6:14 pm


    A nearby Arts high school in Cincinnati, OH, which had been an older high school, had over their theater your motto "Esse quam videri." Seemed singularly inappropriate for a theater!

    In fairness, it probably was the older school's motto and the theater may have been something else.

RSS feed for comments on this post