15

When is it appropriate to respond with "affirmative"? Could some examples be provided?

This dialog has been taken from Knight Rider TV series season 2 episode 15:

Michael: KITT, analyze these tire tracks.
KITT: They're still warm, Michael. Made by a vehicle accelerating, not stopping. And I detect traces of clay in the tires.
Michael: Clay, like at Glenrock Cliffs?
KITT: Affirmative.

How I Met Your Mother season 3 episode 6:

Lily: Are you telling me that they actually have conventions for porn?
Barney: Affirmative, or to put it in another way "God Bless America"

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    @AlanCarmack Note that it's traditionally spelled "Aye aye" - and it's still used in today's Navy and Marines. "Aye" means "Agreed", while "Aye aye" means "Will do!". This corresponds to "Roger" (I heard you) and "Wilco" (Will comply). – John Burger Aug 8 '16 at 10:09
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    @JohnBurger: "Aye" just means "yes". – psmears Aug 8 '16 at 14:49
  • @JohnBurger - In the US Navy, "Aye aye" actually means "I understand and will obey" – Taegost Aug 9 '16 at 12:51
18

"Affirmative" has one (and only one, in my opinion) advantage: it takes a while to say. This is why it is used in the military, and other radio-oriented professions.

When communicating over radio, it is important to get your message across in one transmission. If you 'press to talk' too late, or there's a moment of interference, then a short "Yes" may be missed. If the recipient hears "..firmative" then they can be pretty sure what the person is saying. If they hear "..." then they simply don't know.

The problem is the opposite: "Negative". If you hear "...ative", then you don't know what the person meant either.

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    You would use "negatory" as the opposite of "affirmative" in those situations. – ColleenV Aug 8 '16 at 11:50
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    Tangentially, this answer explains the NATO alphabet, as well as why veterans say numbers a little strangely--the whole thing oriented to being able to extrapolate with strong confidence which specific letter/number was said even if some of the transmission is garbled. – Nanban Jim Aug 8 '16 at 20:50
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    @ColleenV I've only heard "negatory" in C.B. (U.S. "citizen's band") radio. In aviation and amateur radio, it's "negative." – Wayne Conrad Aug 8 '16 at 21:40
  • @WayneConrad Interesting, I'm a military brat and my uncle was a trucker, so that's what I heard when I was growing up. It's hard to say whether my dad picked it up from CB or the military, but I also knew the NATO alphabet at a young age so I assumed it was cut from the same cloth. I wonder if negatory is simply outdated, or just localized slang. – ColleenV Aug 8 '16 at 21:48
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    @ColleenV While trying to learn more about "negatory," I found a nice answer on... where else...? stackexchange. – Wayne Conrad Aug 8 '16 at 21:52
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The use of "affirmative" generally has a "military" or "robotic" feel to it. In everyday speech, it is uncommon to hear someone reply with "affirmative". You're likely to hear yes, yeah, uh-huh, etc.

KITT replies with "affirmative" because

KITT is an artificially intelligent electronic computer module in the body of a highly advanced, very mobile, robotic automobiled [1.]

Since KITT is more or less a robot, it makes sense that KITT responds in a manner befitting a robot.

In the second case, there are a number of reasons why Barney could have replied that way. My best guess is that this was meant as misdirection. By replying with "affirmative", Barney appears to be serious, or mature, about the matter. But then he comments "God Bless America", which indicates that he's glad, or thankful, that "they actually have conventions for porn". This is supposed to be funny because it breaks the idea that he was being serious. He was immature all along.

2

The Knight Rider example is very appropriate to demonstrate the reason for using "affirmative". "Affirmative" has only one well defined meaning; agreement with an assertion or request.

Its common synonyms "yes" and "right" have multiple meanings and connotations that must be implied by context.

In a tactical situation, it is important to express yourself clearly without ambiguity so that you may be quickly and accurately understood.

The ability to extract meaning from context requires a human, or highly advanced computer hardware and software. That is why using uncommon, but very unambiguous language is termed "robotic". Because robots do not have a choice. They lack the ability to imply anything, unless it is a specific preprogrammed response(which would be very rare).

Since KITT must often say "Left Michael", or "Right Michael" it avoids confusion for the driver if KITT never says "Right" except with the directional meaning.

Because of the reasons listed above, "affirmative" has acquired tone beyond "yes" when used in casual conversation instead of tactical operations. It implies a higher degree of confidence in your answer than simply saying yes. And, subsequently is often an attempt to bring the other party over to your way of thinking, as used in the second example.

Woman: Do I look OK?

Man: Yes, you look fine.


Woman: Do I look OK?

Man: Affirmative, you will be the prettiest at the ball.

1

“Affirmative” has at least one advantage: it has a word root "Affirm-". As a result, it can be used as an adjective. It has a verb (affirm), a noun (affirmation), and an adverb (affirmatively).

Sample usage (highly contrived): One day KITT replied affirmatively to me: “Affirmative.” Contented with KITT’s affirmation, I did something else. The next day I told another person: “KITT affirmed me.” He replied, “that was an affirmative answer.”

In contrast, “yes” only has one conventional usage: One day KITT replied affirmatively to me: “Yes.” Contented with KITT’s affirmation, I did something else. The next day I told another person: “KITT said yes to me.” He replied, “that was an affirmative answer”

A computer can easily insert words like “affirm*” into any syntax. It is also easier for a computer to find identical words from a large amount of data.

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    Welcome to ELL. I'm not sure that this is an answer to the question... – JavaLatte Aug 8 '16 at 15:04

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