Can’t never could do nothin’

Do you sometimes think about a certain saying you often heard when you were growing up and suddenly realize how much meaning is hidden in that simple figure of speech? My grandmother liked to say, “Can’t never could do nothin’.”

Like the time she had just repaired the hem on my favorite wrap-around skirt and asked me to come upstairs to see if the length was right. I replied, “I can’t. Oprah’s on.” And she said, “Can’t never could do nothin’.”

Of course, what I really meant was, “I am watching TV and don’t want to be bothered.” In the end, I could and did get my lazy butt up and try on that skirt because it made me look thinner and I didn’t want to do without it.

Or like the countless times she informed me she would be waking me up at 6:00 a.m. for our daily walk. I would say, “What! You know I can’t get up that early.” And she would say, “Can’t never could do nothin’.”

What I actually thought was, “Make a fuss over me and tell me how you would miss me terribly if I stayed in bed.” Again, I could and did get up, because those early morning hours alone with her were the best thing about my Summer vacations.

When I think about it, it seems to me that the word “can’t” is like the sheep’s skin which conceals the wolf in the flock. It is a powerful verbal operator which we inadvertently use to hide our lack of motivation, insecurities and dislikes but also needs, priorities and choices. When we say “can’t” we are often disguising other sentiments such as “won’t”, “didn’t”, “don’t want”, “would rather”, “please do” , “take notice” and on and on.

I think “can’t” CAN do something. I believe it is a potent word and, if we are not diligent in its use, it can reduce the quality of our communication, limit our options for action and obscure our sense of personal choice and responsibility.


I wonder, what would happen if we all decided to ban the word “can’t” from our vocabularies? Maybe we would begin to say and hear things like this:

  • “Could you please unbutton my pants.” …INSTEAD OF… “I can’t do a thing with these fake nails on.”
  • “True, I didn’t write the testimonial yet.” …INSTEAD OF… “I couldn’t find the time to do it up to now because… (insert a million excuses here).”
  • “Yes, I handed over everything because I wanted to stay alive.” INSTEAD OF “I couldn’t not give the robbers my money.”
  • “Apparently, I want to feel shitty about this situation for a while.” …INSTEAD OF… “I can’t stop thinking about how badly the meeting went.”

To me, a vocabulary without “can’t” feels like a more interesting, honest and powerful life.

Looking at the statements above, which differences make a difference to you?  What might you say …INSTEAD OF…?

Until we meet,


5 responses to “Can’t never could do nothin’

  1. You are impressive as Barbara has always said you were. Enjoying you blog.

  2. William, that is so kind of you to say. Thank you for the encouragement 🙂 Hi to everyon back home!

  3. Shailia, you’re so right. Don’t hide behind the can’ts and give a true statement about your will. people will know it unconsiously anyway.

    But change might be not easy – even to me.
    Read about that in german at

    Thanks for your thoughts.
    hugs Jochen

  4. To say “I can’t” is much more comfortable than to say “I don’t want to”
    1.for yourself – because you are not responsible for not doing something you should so (and you know you should…)
    2.for the others – they’ll think “look, he’s / she’s as weak as I am, so, no need to change myself

    If you start saying “I don’t want to” or “I decided to do something more important (for me or anybody else)” people will react very confused (the friendly and wise ones) and often angry (why don’t you obey the unwritten laws? Why do you give me the feeling of being weak?)!

    So, lot’s of courage to those who decide to go the honest way. Don’t expect to be rewarded by others – But enjoy the incredible feeling of the child rejoicing in you because it doesn’t have to lie anymore 🙂

  5. Can’t never could do nothin’ will from now on be part of my vocabulary, along with a good saying I learnt from my friend Josh:

    Never say die.

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