DTN – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Do you like sharing secrets? Are you someone that is just full of gossip and drama, but do not want the information spreading beyond your core group of friends? Maybe you have a secret that you want to share, but don’t want it to get out?

In some cases, perhaps you and your friend were up to no good but want to keep it under wraps. That’s when you would use the phrase “DTN” or, “Don’t tell nobody.”

This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

“DTN” means “Don’t tell nobody”. This is a slang phrase that would be used by someone who has information about other people, or secrets that either they heard from someone else or about their own life.

It is used colloquially, oftentimes between people who are close, but holds a stronger connotation than simply saying “don’t tell anyone” or “it’s a secret.”

It is a double negative, however, in this instance, the double negative does not result in a cancellation of the negative statement.

The “not” in “don’t” and the “no” in “nobody” do not cancel each other out, but instead, they emphasize the negative of the expression- emphasis on the sentiment that what was shared should not be distributed to others.

Example Usage

“If we decide to go over there and mess with him, dnt”

“Technically I am only 20, but I really want to get in the club. Check out my fake id, dnt”

“I overheard the boss talking with HR about a new hire, dnt Kathy they are being replaced”

“Everything that happens while we are in Vegas is dnt only”

“There is a secret way to get in, but its dnt, so you are out of luck”

“There is a reason that most things around here are dnt bro”

“We are going boosting but it’s all dnt, so I can’t help you with the details”

Origin

The origin of the phrase “don’t tell nobody” or “DNT” is in African American Vernacular English, also known as AAVE. AAVE arose out of creole in the southern United States, combining the syntax of many West African languages and English, the dominant language of the free people in the newly formed United States. After Emancipation, AAVE spread as African Americans were now freed from enslavement in southern plantations.

Since the 1800s, AAVE has been an ever-evolving form of the English language with its own rules and grammar. In AAVE, double negatives are considered a form of emphasis, therefore making “Don’t tell nobody” a more emphasized version of “don’t tell anyone.” It very likely became a more popular phrase in the 1920s, as the study of AAVE started to expand in academics.

Phrases Similar to DTN

  • “Don’t tell anyone.”
  • “It’s a secret.”
  • “Keep this to yourself.”
  • “This is between you and me.”
  • “I don’t want anyone to know this.”
  • “You didn’t hear this from me.”
  • “They said not to tell anyone”

Phrases opposite to DTN

  • “This isn’t a secret”
  • “As widely known”
  • “Everybody knows”
  • “It’s not new news”
  • “This is something we all know”
  • “We’ve been known”

What is The Correct Saying?

  • DTN or don’t tell anybody

Ways People May Incorrectly Say DTN

Some ways that people may say this incorrectly is if they use another negative throughout the sentence, hindering understanding. Another way might be if someone uses it with an application of traditional English grammar rules- using double negatives as a form of cancellation. This would result in confusion as people may not understand that it is intended to be highlighting part of the intent of the phrase, rather than a cancellation of the negatives.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase DTN

  • I am going to let you in on the secret, but its strictly dnt after I tell you.
  • If we do this, everything that follows is strictly dtn.
  • Hey, I got something from the store earlier, but its dtn okay?

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