On Doing Nuffink

One of the standard grouses of parents is the way their sprogs, when asked what they are doing, reply “Nuffink”. At first sight it is easy to reprobate this as slovenly speech and extreme illogic. To do nothing on that scale, apparently, one has to be a surly adolescent; the rest of us are necessarily doing something, whether lawful, advisable or otherwise.

But of course neither side really means or understands “nothing”. The reply simply means, “None of your business”. As both sides understand perfectly well, this cannot be said to people who do not comprehend the concept of something not being their business. Should that be said, with whatever justification, we shall soon be hearing “You are a guest in my house!” and even worse things.

This particular meme demands further attention. So the adolescent is a guest in the house of his parents, is he? Now, most human cultures have a code of practice for how to treat guests, mandating courtesy and not authorising intrusive questioning. If the sprog pays rent, then the laws and customs of tenancy apply instead; and again, there is no right for the landlord to demand to know everything.

The issue is obscured by the fact that the youngster has probably mumbled “nuffink” in response to what on the surface seems a perfectly polite question as to what he is doing, in the same family as “How was your day, dear?” He probably knows, however, that the civilised enquiry will be followed up by the none-of-your-business questions and so chooses to nip the inquisition in the bud. This is a mistake, as he thereby cedes the moral high ground to people who will – with that special disingenuousness issued to parents up to no good ¬– pretend to be “only” asking a polite question. He loses either way, and the constant loss of such battles is no doubt what has powered his surliness in the first place. No, it is not an inevitable accompaniment of adolescence, it is the inevitable reaction to games-playing.

Posted on March 20, 2010 at 13:42 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink

Leave a Reply