Posted by: Nathan | August 20, 2007

Interpreting “No Woman, No Cry”

I admit that I am unfamiliar with Bob Marley’s not-too-great hit “No Woman, No Cry;” in fact, the only lyrics I know are the three that appear in the title. Still, I thought I had the song figured out until (somehow) I ended up chatting about it at work today. It turns out, there are at least two ways to make sense of Marley’s lyrics.

I thought “no woman, no cry” is a direct address, imperative sentence: “No, Woman. No cry.” In standard English, Marley would say, “No, Woman, don’t cry.”

However, my coworkers had a completely different take. They thought “no woman, no cry” is an “if, then” statement, i.e. ” If: no woman, then :no cry.” In translation: “If you have no woman, you will not cry.”

Then I found this helpful Wikipedia article which said: “A more accurate rendering of the title in Jamaican patois would be ‘No, woman, nuh cry.’ The ‘nuh,’ which makes a shorter vowel sound for ‘no,’ is the equivalent of the contraction ‘don’t.'” I was right!

It is fascinating how similar yet different Marley’s language is from the American English I’m accustomed to. Which interpretation did you have, or did you have another one?

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Responses

  1. I’m with you. I always thought it meant “No woman…[don’t] cry”.

  2. I will be honest and say that I never really thought about it. That said, I fall into your ‘don’t cry’ camp.

  3. Like you, I was only familiar with the “No Woman, No Cry” part of the song, but I interpreted it like your coworkers did (no woman=no cry). The correct meaning never occurred to me. Interesting!

  4. It’s pretty imperialistic to criticize a Jamaican-born artist for not speaking academic English. To say that there is only one “proper” English is ethnocentric and ignorant. P.S. Bob Marley’s album with the Wailers is widely regarded as the greatest album of the 20th Century (you can ask Time magazine).

  5. To repeat myself, “Naturally, one can’t expect Marley to speak perfect English, and maybe one wouldn’t want him to.”

    As for the album with the Wailers being one of the best of this century, I don’t agree. The opinion of Time buys you no credibility on my blog (same goes for Rolling Stone. et al.). “But they’re the experts!” you say; yes, I suppose, but I have ever disagreed with the “experts” on a number of aesthetic issues.

    All that said, I don’t dislike Bob Marley, and I hope you and everyone else continue to enjoy his music.

  6. The woman in “No Woman, No Cry” refers to the Queen of England and the way that they controlled Jamaica. At least that is how I interpreted it!

  7. Ok initially I thought the same thing your coworkers did…if there is no woman, then you won’t cry. That was before I even heard the song and listened to their lyrics. But I soon realized that this initial interpretation makes zero sense outside of the title. Each verse is directed towards not forgetting your past, but at the same time, not dwelling on it. I felt that he was saying something along the lines of “Bad things might have happened, and you should always keep them in mind, but don’t worry too much because things will be fine”. Haha am I making sense? In any case, I think Bob Marley was ridiculously talented and ahead of his time. You could tell how much passion he put in every verse, song, and performance. Reggae is understandably not everyone’s cup of tea, but I certainly do believe Bob Marley deserves the respect and recognition he gets as an innovator to the world of music. Kind of like…I don’t really listen to Frank Sinatra but I respect the hell out of him.

    Additionally, I think it would be unfair to call out a legend such as Bob Marley on “horrendous grammar”. Hardly ever is proper grammar incorporated in the media. Like you said, most people wouldn’t even expect him to speak perfect English, but at least he has an excuse…it’s not his first language. Not much you can say about everyone else. Although it’s besides the point, I just wanted to bring that up haha.

  8. No woman = no cry

  9. f— you all. bob marley is the man and no woman no cry refers to the queen of england. so all you non beleiver-english major-d—heads can crawl into a hole and die. [Edited for profanity]

  10. Jah live!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. I think it means: If there is no woman then there are no tears.

    But when you read lyrics you understand that Bob Marley ment “Woman you don’t need to cry” 🙂

  12. if your not a woman dont cry

  13. How can anyone not be a fan of Marley? His music is the purest form out there, and nothing nowadays can even compare. I guarantee that if you gave his music a chance you would learn to love it. I too once hated it and didn’t give it a chance until i sat down and really listened.

  14. hey 🙂 im a huge marley fan, and i always thought it meant the same as your co workers. but yours does kind of make sense. we cant be sure though! its too bad we cant ask him 😦

    by the way you are a GREAT writer! do you write professionally?

  15. i always thought it meant if you don’t gotta woman then your not going to cry…but yeah listenin to it now it seems like hes telling a woman not to cry…hmm…thats wack i thought the premise i originally thought it had been, was a lot better.

  16. First of all, the Jamaican Patois used for the title of this song is considered another language and NOT grammatically incorrect English. The Patois spoken by Jamaican natives is a mixture and derivative of African substrate languages and European languages. This is similar to the Creole spoken by Haitians, which is often confused as a broken form of French, when it is in fact an entirely new language.

    So when Marley says: No Woman, No Cry, it is Patois for woman, don’t cry. Also this song was written for his wife, Rita Marley, whom he eventually left (though never divorced) for another woman; but would later come to regret.

    In short, please get your information straight before making ignorant comments.

    • I stand corrected. What makes it a separate language I wonder, when it has almost everything in common with English?

    • It’s not a different language, just a different form of English

  17. I thought the same as your coworkers, I stand corrected. It adds a lot more to the song with that meaning.

  18. I have always taken this song title literally – “If there is no woman, there will be no crying”. But I was listening to it today and started paying attention to all of the lyrics. I suddenly couldn’t understand where the rest of the lyrics supported that a woman might be the problem of the tears. So I looked it up and there are 3 theories which there is no general consensus to. Without the songwriter’s direct personal input, it will continue to be up for interpretation. The “no woman=no crying” literal interpretation is out the window for me, though. It just doesn’t make sense in context with the rest of the song. The second idea, the one you knew it as, is the simplest, most realistic one. That a woman represents the queen and what not – this seems to be the consensus of the “true marley fans”. But where is the proof?? Without that, they really can’t be 100% sure.

  19. I always took it as – NO WOMAN => NO CRY for satire. However its sure that its no woman nuh cry, nuh meaning don’t. Matches with the rest of the lyrics and the context. But was wondering, why don’t they write then it as no woman nuh cry!!

  20. If you listen to the rest of the lyrics, it seems fairly obvious Bob is singing to a love of some type that he is leaving “but while I’m away…Everything’s gonna be alright”

  21. no woman no cry also can be iterpretated as
    there is no woman, that dont cry:
    no woman no cry
    just IMHO
    my mother language is russian, so i can be wrong 🙂

  22. Why are you interpreting Bob Marley songs? You are suppose to listen and enjoy. This is chill music in the truest sense. Yes Bob had a great message. It was everything will be all right. Now enjoy the music.

  23. Jah bless. What about with a bit of punctuation. ‘No woman, don’t.(just) Cry! Eish, my Idrens, Bob Marley is lecka,nuh cry…

  24. Bob Marley did inface mean, No woman, don’t cry. The song is about the depressed ghettos in his native land Jamaica, and how someday it will get better. He is also thought to be singing this song to his wife, saying don’t cry, “everything is gonna be alright”, the song is about getting to a greater place. Interpret how you may, but this is what the song is TRUELY about.

  25. First I would like to say that no woman no cry is in way a “no to great hit” it holds timeless relevents in it lyrics not only when it was written but in to days socity and the future. No woman no cry is not about woman crying or not having women it’s about friendship loss and love if you look at the lyrics not just the title.you can tell this is the meaning by the lyrics “As they would mingle with the good people we meet
    Good friends we have had, oh good friends we’ve lost along the way” marly is tell you not to cry about cry about the loss of friends and that “everything is going to be alright.” Said, said, said I remember when we used to sit
    In the government yard in Trenchtown
    And then Georgie would make the fire light
    Log wood burnin’ through the night
    Then we would cook corn meal porridge
    Of which I’ll share with you” in this verse marly is talking about a friend he may have lost. I think that if you listen to the lyrics of the song in sted of just reading the title and going on that and I urge any one reading this to listen to all of the lyrics and you may come to the same colution. Just a closing statement going on just the title of a song and not actually listening to the lyrics shows great ignorance

  26. I originally thought it was “no, woman, don’t cry” but then later I started thinking about the “no woman = no cry” angle, which, based on my experience, has some resonance for me. If you look at the whole lyrics, then there is a good case for the “no, woman, don’t cry” meaning being the main message of the song. I think the phrasing Bob uses when singing “no woman, no cry”, though, gives people the idea that he may refer to the “no woman = no cry” situation. Unfortunately we can’t ask him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a poet like Bob Marley understood and enjoyed the double-meaning aspect of the lyric and purposely chose it because of that. After all, he could’ve sung, “hey woman, don’t cry” or something boring like that.

  27. I think “No Woman, No Cry” directly means “No Woman”=”No Cry”,
    but not in the sense “If there is no woman, I will not cry”, instead
    “If there is no woman, there won’t be cry” or in other words
    “there will nobody crying”, because “only the women cry”, but even “the women shouldn’t cry”, so, in the end we have something similar to the alternative meaning: “Women, don’t cry (and there won’t be cry)!”

  28. I agree with you, there’s lines where he says something about women not needing to cry.

  29. It means: Don’t shed no tears!..

  30. “Oh my Little sister, don’t she’d no tears.” C’mon, really? No Woman, nuh Cry. No problem little sistah, it aaall good wit me. Dry your tears, I say. Condoling, comforting, and kind. Jamaica.


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