This word means “to say against.” To gainsay things or people is to speak against them, to disagree with them, to say that they’re wrong.
That’s the accepted pronunciation, but long ago, it was a matter of dispute. It’s discussed in a 1797 text called A Vocabulary of Such Words in the English Language as are of Dubious Or Unsettled Accentuation. That title sounds made-up, right? But it’s real, I promise. It goes to show how old, and old-fashioned, the word “gainsay” is.
Part of speech:
Verb, the transitive kind: “they gainsaid him,” “her intentions are honorable and can’t be gainsaid.”
Gainsaid, gainsaying, gainsayer(s).
Rarely, “gainsay” is a noun meaning “disagreement or contradiction,” like this: “He’s courageous beyond gainsay.”
How to use it:
This word is formal and serious. It usually sounds literary or old-fashioned. So if that’s not the tone you’re going for, pick a less intense synonym, like “dispute,” “oppose,” or “contradict.”
You can gainsay people, or gainsay their claims, comments, choices, rules, orders, demands, roles, contributions, etc.
And you can gainsay people’s motives, devotion, or earnestness.
You can also gainsay things, like theories, hypotheses, patterns, accounts, premises, interpretations, conclusions, etc.
Finally, as the upcoming examples will show, we often use “gainsay” in a negative sense, pointing out what can’t be gainsaid, what’s hard to gainsay, what there’s no gainsaying, etc.
“Striding forth again from retirement, No-Kami issued orders so prompt and to the purpose that there was no gainsaying them.”
— Lewis Wingfield, The Curse of Koshiu, 1888
“The phase of construction already completed, the first of three, represents about 60 percent of a $65 million project to be completed in 2016… Some of the campus’s rustic charm and sense of roughing it is being lost. But it is hard to gainsay the musical and educational values advanced by the project.”
— James R. Oestreich, The New York Times, 29 July 2013