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It's a phrase from the song "Short Change Hero", and while I think I understand it (This is not a place for people who are not heroes), I find somewhat confusing the combination of all those negations; "ain't" is "is not", so you may read it as "This is not no place for no hero", wich doesn't really seem to make a lot of sense.

Then the song continues with

This ain't no place for no better man

Again with the negations and this "no better man", that looks strange. I've seen it in phrases like i.e. "there's no better man for the job", but what's the meaning here exactly?

Finally can those phrases be considered correct english or the songwriter took some licenses to make them fit the song?

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    For some interesting reading, see the related en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jespersen%27s_Cycle – corsiKa Jul 7 '16 at 22:33
  • The universal application of negative forms in a sentence is an example of "negative concordance", a required feature in languages like Spanish but only present in some dialects of English (and almost never in "proper, formal English" ... but if anyone can think of an example I'd love to see it.) – Darren Ringer Jul 8 '16 at 13:59
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    One way to make sense of phrases like this is to realize that sometimes no is used in place of any. And of course ain't is just a variation on isn't or aren't. So rather quickly we can see this as, "This isn't any place for any better man (men)", which should be easier to understand. – Todd Wilcox Jul 8 '16 at 14:05
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Most of the time, especially in "vernacular" speech, multiple negations are not intended to be interpreted sequentially, but rather as an intensified single negative.

The phrase "This ain't no place for no hero", in normal speech, would be "this is no place for a hero." The additional negations intensify it, leading to a sense more like "This is absolutely not a place for a hero."

Similarly, "This ain't no place for no better man" means "This is not a place for a better man."

These sorts of multiple-negation phrases are absolutely NOT considered correct, standard, grammatical English, but are common vernacular.

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    So... If it really was a place for a hero, would it be "It's no place for non-hero" correct? or it just would be silly to use the negation? – Borgtex Jul 7 '16 at 18:55
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    @Borgtex, "It's no place for a non-hero" is correct, if a bit awkward; negative prefixes do not combine with negative particles ("no", "not", "never", etc.), but placing them in close proximity often makes the phrase feel like it must be read carefully. One would probably try to replace the prefixed word with a non-prefixed synonym, for example "It's no place for a normal person." – Hellion Jul 7 '16 at 19:16
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    @Hellion: Might I respectfully suggest "This ain't no place to be if you ain't no hero"? To me it sounds more natural than "It's no place for a normal person." – TonyK Jul 7 '16 at 21:58
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    @Desty I think we get that due to random luck. As Hellion pointed out, the extra negations are really just adding intensity. "This ain't a place for no hero" and "This ain't no place for a hero" have roughly the same meaning in vernacular speech as the original, despite dropping a negation. – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Jul 7 '16 at 22:59
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    These sorts of multiple-negation phrases are absolutely NOT considered correct, standard, grammatical English, but absolutely ARE used and understood by English speakers, which is all that matters. – Kik Jul 8 '16 at 13:26
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The chorus is:

This ain't no place for no hero.
This ain't no place for no better man.
This ain't no place for no hero -
To call "home."

The meaning is: this is no place for heroes, this is no place for better men. This is a place for criminals, for violent people, as no one else can survive here. A hero would try to be heroic, to change the place, and be persecuted and killed for it, so go back where you came from.

  • If you use other lyrics for clues you also come up with another possible meaning: "And what matters ain't the "who's baddest" but The ones who stop you fallin' from your ladder, baby" - in this case you can take the chorus to mean that you won't succeed by trying to be a hero, or being a "better" man, but only through supporting, and being supported by others. So don't try to be "the baddest", or you'll fail. – Matt Feb 6 '17 at 14:48
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The phrase 'This ain't no place for no hero' was coined by the United States Military, leadership often told infantry combat soldiers 'this ain't no place for no hero' It means that you keep your head down and you follow orders and you might just make it home. Any acts of heroism, is the fastest way to go home in a body bag. Yeah, they'll remember you alright.. But you'll be dead.

  • this answer would be greatly improved with references that support it – green_ideas Nov 16 at 5:03
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First, let me nitpick about another topic:

this "no better man", that looks strange. I've seen it in phrases like i.e. "there's no better man for the job", but what's the meaning here exactly?

This is an older phrase, when the word "him" could often be seen when referring to people of both genders, or an unidentified person who might be a female. This phrase may also have come from the time before women were commonly a part of America's workforce. So, don't get worried about the term "man". This is equivalent to:

there's no better person to do this task

If a person is the best person for the task, then nobody is better than this person. If the person does a mediocre job, then there might be many other people who would be able to do the task better.

Now, let's move onto the main topic:

can those phrases be considered correct [E]nglish...?

Nope.

I'm answering from my perspective of American English. There is a famous phrase:

“Ain’t” ain’t a word.

For a long time, the word “ain’t” has been relegated as a slang word. The word was considered absolutely inappropriate to use in certain circumstances, such as any formal usage including any school assignment for a child. Most dictionaries did not bother including the word. (Newer dictionaries, particularly online dictionaries which can be quite large without the expense of printed paper, may be more prone to show the word, so that a spelling can be identified and a definition can be provided.)

Wikipedia's article for “ain’t” says, “The usage of ain't is a perennial subject of controversy in English. Ain't is commonly used by many speakers in oral or informal settings, especially in certain regions and dialects. Its usage is often highly stigmatized, and it may be used” to identify people are unfamiliar with proper speech, which may indicate they are less educated.

In the spirit of the idea that “ain’t ain’t a word”, the song is intentionally being a bit unclear by choosing the include the word. Generally speech is intended to communicate, but in this case, the song is sacrificing some clarity, and is doing that for the sake of having a bit of fun. Many times, the primary goal of a song is not to communicate, but to have people experience enjoyment. So, having some fun may be appropriate.

“This ain’t no place for no hero”

The phrase “no hero” can rightfully be replaced with the phrase “coward”. I am going to so some variations of the sentence, to make an analysis be more clear.

“This ain’t no place for a coward”

Maybe a hero would stand in a spotlight, honored for the heroic deeds. Another place of honor might be on top of a podium, where winners are usually honored. Lots of people can see whoever stands there. Maybe there is a “heroes hall”. Such places are appropriate for heroes to walk down. Such a place is not appropriate for unworthy people like cowards. Such a place might not be a place intended for cowards. Such a place might be “no place for a coward”. Instead, the place is a good spot for a hero.

“This ain’t a good place for a hero”

However, “this place” might be a shelter, such as a small cave accessed by a hidden hole in the ground. Most people would not even know about it. Such a place would be a perfect place for a coward (not a hero).

So, there you have an analysis of breaking down the phrase, piece by piece. It looks like the simpler version of the phrase is saying:

This is no place for heroes.

That makes sense: two of the negatives essentially end up canceling each other out, and so you end up with a remaining negative.

The phrase seems to be saying that the place is perfect for cowards.

... except...

We're using a triple negative, which is exceedingly rare in formal English. So we are probably looking at an extremely challenging concept, or we are looking at someone who is violating standard rules. Since the word “ain’t” is being used, we are probably looking at someone breaking the typical rules.

Sometimes, people use multiple negatives to really reinforce the point that what they have in mind is negative. I personally disagree with the statement from Hellion's answer which says:

Most of the time, especially in "vernacular" speech, multiple negations are not intended to be interpreted sequentially, but rather as an intensified single negative.

I disagree with the assessment that this is what happens “most of the time”. However, I am basing that on opinion. I can definitely agree that I have seen people speak that way, particularly when the person is so wrapped up in emotion that they don't choose their words carefully.

Actual Idea #1

So, my initial opinion (as an experienced native speaker), what is really trying to be communicated is something more like:

“This is NO place for someone who is not a hero.”

In other words: You can be in this place. However, you're broken. You're acting like a coward. You need to fix this problem. Act heroic. Then you will deserve to be in this place.

Stop acting so embarrassing. Stop being scared. Have confidence. Be brave. Be impressive. Be worthy of the title “hero”. Be heroic.

Edit History: I added to my answer, by adding this other idea (and related analysis near the end).

That idea, which was just mentioned, was just my initial thought. However, as I thought about this further, I thought that the person might have been trying to communicate a different idea.

Actual Idea #2

The idea, which was actually trying to be communicated, might have been this: be normal. People who are recognized as heroes are often noticed for doing something unusually heroic. Stop trying to be a hero. Stop trying to be extra special. Just do things the normal way, which is the safe way, and the right away. Your attempts to be noticed, by being unusual, are not appreciated here.

Summary Analysis

w[h]ich doesn't really seem to make a lot of sense.

I personally find the communication attempt to be a bit unclear. It makes me need to think for a moment about what is really being said. That is really unfair, because the reason I need to think so hard is because the speaker did not think enough to choose words more carefully... unless the speaker wanted to make me to think about what is being said. Forcing me to slow down and think might have been the act of a genius who understands what effect the unclarity would have on me.

When I think about the situation, I can probably think about whether he is encouraging me to think of the place as a place for cowards or a place for heroes. The person is probably really trying to say whatever actually makes sense in the situation.

Note that I mentioned two possible actual ideas, and they are really saying opposite things: “be a hero”, or “stop trying to be a hero”. How can we know which idea is intended? The answer would be to pay attention to some other available clues. I haven't listened to the song, but other words might let us know what idea the speaker is actually trying to say.

Since this is actually being said as part of a song, informal speech (which violates formal rules of speech) may be very appropriate for this type of informal, fun communication.

  • Some additional, on-topic reading if you're interested: StonyB’s answer to user207’s question involving a double negative introduces a triple negative as part of StonyB’s analysis. Affable Geek’s answer to Vamsi Pavan Mahesh's question about “ain’t no” may also be relevant. – TOOGAM Jul 8 '16 at 7:06
  • Now that I've actually bothered to check lyrics for Short Change Hero, I am favoring my answer's second "actual idea" is what the song tries to communicate. The song also says, "This ain't no place for no better man." Using similar logic, that triple negative really means "this place" (home) "is not for people who are the best". In other words, "let there be better people. You don't need to be on the top." As I read the lyrics, it seems this song is about family members who won't give up on a fool who always tries to be the best – TOOGAM Jul 8 '16 at 7:30
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    "So, in my opinion as a more experienced native speaker, what is really trying to be communicated is something more like: “This is NO place for someone who is not a hero.”" I absolutely disagree with this. The intended meaning is the opposite. This is no place for a hero. – Kevin Jul 8 '16 at 14:25
  • @Kevin : At the time I wrote that, I was still thinking the actual simple message was "Actual Idea #1". That's how I interpreted it, at first. As I thought about it further, I realized it could also be interpreted the opposite way (as you noted), so I modified my answer to also mention "Actual Idea"/perspective #2 as a 2nd possibility. When you have slang with triple negative, either one of these ways could make sense. As my later comment notes, I later found out the famous song's intent does seem to be using what I called "Actual Idea #2", essentially the opposite of my first thought (#1) – TOOGAM Jul 8 '16 at 14:55
  • if you think the intended meaning is the second, you should edit your answer to reflect that. – Kevin Jul 8 '16 at 18:16

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