I've always been fond of tracking the latest in weird public locutions, and here's one I can't quite wrap my head around. I first noticed it a few weeks ago while listening to a radio call-in show...the host had a something-or-other expert on the horn, and every time the host asked a question the expert would answer it beginning with the phrase "Yeah, no, absolutely."
Like for instance, "Mr. Lennon, do you ever dream of winning an important literary award?" "Yeah, no, absolutely, I fantasize daily about screaming boo-ya at Don DeLillo."
I have heard the phrase several times over the past month, the most recent being this morning, from the mouth of Sandra Bullock talking on NPR about her role in what sounds to me like it must be the worst movie ever made, but what do I know. The strange thing about this phrase is that I use it myself--at least I have from time to time. And I still don't quite understand what it means.
My son's theory is that the "no" is a cancellation of the "yeah," followed by an intensified replacement of same. As in, "Yeah, wait scratch that, what I really mean is absolutely." But I think it's actually something subtler, something more like, "Yes, you're right; no, don't be concerned that you have asked an impertinent question, because my answer is, in fact, absolutely."
What, then, is your theory on this phrase? And of all the times for it to surface, why now?