What other one word responses have been made to military ultimatums besides “Nuts!”, “Mokusatsu” and “If”?

What other one word responses have been made to military ultimatums besides “Nuts!”, “Mokusatsu” and “If”?

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I am aware of three well known circumstances where a one word response was given to a military ultimatum:

  • The Japanese government responded “mokusatsu” to the Potsdam Declaration prior to the Hiroshima bomb being dropped.

  • (Then Brigadier) General McAuliffe, commanding the 101st Airborne at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, famously replied "Nuts!" to the German demand for surrender.

  • The city of Sparta laconically replied "If!" to Philip of Macedon's demand:

    "You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city."

There is absolutely no confusion about the meaning of the latter two instances I describe. Both can clearly be paraphrased by the childhood taunt:

Yeah! You and whose other army?

However there has long been doubt, perhaps even controversy, about the true intended meaning of mokusatsu.

In seeking other examples where a one word answer was provided (in the language of correspondence), perhaps a historical precedent can be established: that laconic one word answers intuitively always carry the baggage of the taunt above. SO in addition to other examples, commentary on how they fit or don't fit the thesis here would be on interest.


Thanks to @semaphore my reference for mokusatsu is much improved. The quote is from a press conference where Suzuki Kantaro first discusses the background of the Potsdam Declaration, and then explicitly states that the response "mokusatsu-suru". Then he discusses what is seen as the only alternative.

To my mind, this does not really alter my position above. The only content that Kantaro is giving to the Allies on behalf of the government, as a response to the Declaration, is "mokusatsu-suru. All the related meta-content, to me, only says that other alternatives were unacceptable or identical. They are rationale for the response, not part of the response. Your mileage may vary, but that is my take.

Here is additional informed commentary on "mokusatsu":

@Semaphore - I read that WP article. It did say that "mokusatsu" is represented by two ideograms ("silence" and "killing"). First thought that hit my head was "doesn't that mean its two words"? (FWIW, second thought was this seems kind of like it would be their translation for "pocket veto", and third was that actually saying it in response would defeat the whole purpose of it). - T.E.D. ♦

@T.E.D. My understanding is Japanese ideograms represent syllables. Hence Haiku are 17 syllables long. It would be like saying "firetruck" is two words because it is composed of the two words fire and truck. - Pieter Geerkens

@T.E.D. I believe it was claimed that they wanted to say "no comment", but did not know what a better translation was. Pieter: You're thinking about kana, which represent sounds; the kanjo characters, like the two that makes up mokusatsu, primarily represent ideas, and each ideograms can have complex or context-dependent pronunciations. Of course, analysing the meaning of a phrase from individual ideograms is the kind of brilliant (/s) linguistics that brought us "the Chinese word for 'crisis' is 'danger opportunity'!" - Semaphore ♦

@andejons: Excellent! I had forgotten that one. - Pieter Geerkens

@PieterGeerkens - "firetruck" is a compound word, which is very different than two random syllables slammed together. Ideograms by definition do not represent syllables. If that happens, what you have is called a syllabary. Looking it up… Kanji is logographic, however they have a syllabary called "kana" (which is itself actually two syllabaries), and apparently typical Japanese writing mixes both (all 3?) at their convenience. Man, I thought English was a PITA… - T.E.D. ♦

The most famous one in France is le mot de Cambronne (Cambronne's word), supposedly uttered when he was surrounded with Napoleon's Old Guard in Waterloo, June the 18th, 1815:

Colville insisted and ultimately Cambronne replied with one word: "Merde!" (literally, "Shit!", figuratively, "Go to hell!") This version of the reply became famous in its own right, becoming known as le mot de Cambronne ("the word of Cambronne") and repeated in Victor Hugo's account of Waterloo in his novel Les Misérables and in Edmond Rostand's play L'Aiglon.

Although Cambronne himself later denied having said that.

"No" or "Ohi"

In Greece they celebrate "Ohi Day" or "No Day" to commemorate the day that Greek prime minister Ioannis Metaxas rejected the ultimatum made by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini on 28 October 1940 allegedly with a simple "No".

Wikipedia reports that his actual reply was “Alors, c'est la guerre!” (so this is war!).




Maybe not an ultimatum, but the British general Charles Napier is reputed to have replied "Peccavi" (latin for "I have sinned") after accidentally conquering the Indian region of 'Sindh' when he discovered belated orders telling him not to.

As comments about mokusatu and Cambronne's example show, these one word answers tend not to be actually literal or not to be actually just one word. However, a famous one word answer to an ultimatum was Greece's answer to Italian ultimatum on October 28th 1940: "ohi" (no). It is still celebrated every year in Greece in Ohi Day.

A runner-up must be "Μολών λαβέ" (usually translated as "come and get them") by Leonidas of Sparta after being told by the Persians (ridiculously outnumbering them) to surrender their weapons at the pass of the Thermopylae.

Götz von Berlichingen's famous (to Germans at least) Schwäbischer Gruß; "Er kann mich im Arsche lecken" - "he can lick my arse".

This may be entirely legendary.

Götz von Berlichingen really did exist, he was a minor nobleman, knight, pirate, kidnapper and freebooter in the 16th century, constantly feuding with all and sundry. The story was made popular by Goethe, and it was the response to a demand that he give up marauding and surrender.

Edit: oops, of course that isn't one word. Shall I delete it?