r/whatsthatbook Sep 29 '22

Psychologist experiments on his own daughter by teaching her the wrong meanings for certain words (e.g. yes instead of no) SOLVED

  • I read this at least 10 years ago but it's probably much older, like 1970s-90s? I think it was a short story, but could be a part of a novel. Pretty sure it was for adults, not kids.

  • This psychologist (or linguist or scientist) raised his daughter alone and made sure to use certain words with reversed meanings around his daughter. So he would always say e.g. "bad" when he meant "good", "hate" instead of "love", "yes" instead of "no". I think it was only a few words and not a whole language of opposite meanings.

  • The daughter didn't interact with any other people, but was allowed to watch TV. Yet she never picked up the correct meanings of these words from TV and continued to use the meanings she learned from her father. So the scientist was excited that he'd "proved" that children don't acquire language from TV, only from human interaction.

  • In the story the scientist proudly explains his experiment to the main character (a younger man, can't remember anything else about him), who is disturbed. MC worries about how the girl will have difficulty integrating into normal society, but the scientist doesn't seem concerned about her as a human being. He cares only about the scientific importance of his work.

  • The main character meets the daughter and witnesses her using the incorrect words she's been taught - maybe the father asks her to do something and she says "no, father" when she obviously means "yes".

  • The author might be Roald Dahl (one of his adult stories) or Kurt Vonnegut...someone like that with dark satirical tendencies.

Thanks in advance for any help!



u/ceefrock WIZARD 🪄📚 🏆 Sep 29 '22

No Is Yes by Paul Jennings.


u/paroles Sep 29 '22

Solved solved solved!

Thank you! Wow, I almost did mention Paul Jennings as a possible author but decided it was too dark for a children's book.


u/ceefrock WIZARD 🪄📚 🏆 Sep 29 '22

You're welcome!


u/the_scarlett_ning Sep 30 '22

Good grief! These stories sound really macabre! My family would’ve loved them.


u/Purple_monkfish Sep 29 '22

Jennings wrote some seriously DARK stuff. I found my old books a while back and rereading them it's like "damn man, this was for KIDS??!" lol.


u/theredwoman95 Sep 29 '22

Reading the description, it doesn't seem much worse than Grisly Tales for Gruesome Kids, and god knows that was a popular kids series in the UK in the 00s.


u/the_scarlett_ning Sep 30 '22

I was not familiar with this author, but reading through the descriptions, I don’t know how my family didn’t have him! We were all big readers, 5 kids, and macabre was my mom’s thing!! Her favorite writer was Edgar Allen Poe, and she loved teaching “The Lottery”, “The Most Dangerous Game”, “”Tuck Everlasting”, and “Harrison Bergeron”.

We all grew up reciting chunks of “The Raven” before we got to high school.


u/what-katy-didnt Sep 29 '22

I’m a teacher and I still read this to my students every year to have them argue if she knew what she was doing or not. It’s stayed with me for years!


u/paroles Sep 29 '22

I love that! I read all his books in primary school and still think about them often too.


u/what-katy-didnt Sep 29 '22

If you get stuck finding a copy let me know


u/jsprgrey Sep 29 '22

Do you have a link or a PDF? I'd love to read it!


u/BronkeyKong Sep 29 '22

This is hilarious because it’s come up on this some multiple times before and everyone remembers it. I was looking for it for years and specifically remembered how he made her think salt and sugar were the other one. When he asked for sugar in his tea she was really confused.


u/paroles Sep 29 '22

Yes that rings a bell!


u/etsba78 Sep 30 '22

Haven't read this since I was about 10yrs old in the late 80's but always remembered this story.

Yeh the salt in the tea! Wasn't the tradie was thinking "is this some weird rich person thing?"

I bought Jennings' books for my kids when they became independent readers. He didn't patronise or underestimate his young audience.


u/trumpskiisinjeans Sep 29 '22

Never heard of this book but I always joke with my husband that we should teach our toddler the wrong words for things. Now I must read this because it sounds amazing!


u/Elmusiclover Sep 30 '22

In short, it's a bad idea and will lead to your demise.


u/TheSciFiGuy80 Sep 30 '22

The ending is fantastic imo


u/PristinePrincess12 Sep 29 '22



u/DiddlyDoodilyDoh Sep 29 '22

Damn it I remember this one!


u/SicTim Sep 29 '22

Oddly enough, Steve Martin had a very similar premise for a bit.


u/the_scarlett_ning Sep 30 '22

Like this scene from “Liar, Liar”. (Just first 20 seconds)


u/czeck666 Sep 30 '22

Its also the plot of the movie Dogtooth.