Non-Answer

Jim: Mr. President, where can I get a job?
President: Many busy executives ask me: what about the job displacement market program in the city of the future? Well, count on us to be there Jim, because, if we're lucky, tomorrow, we won't have to deal with questions like yours ever again.

The Non-Answer is a response to a question that is so generic or vague that it's not really an answer at all. Usually, not only is the answer very vague, it is very obvious as well. This may be because there is no better answer, or the askee simply doesn't want to answer the question. Other times, the askee is bluntly trying to redirect the questioner's attention to what they consider to be the more important consideration. For instance, "because I said so" may not be considered an answer by a junior officer, yet the senior officer may be trying to reinforce the importance of following orders.

Some seemingly Non-Answers can actually be quite profound in their simplicity, succinctly stripping away extraneous considerations. Often this overlaps with Double Meaning, where many people dismiss the apparent Non-Answer but miss the meaning hidden within.

A favored technique for the Sleazy Politician or Obstructive Bureaucrat.

Could lead to a "Yes"/"No" Answer Interpretation situation. Compare Mathematician's Answer and Cryptically Unhelpful Answer. For when it's the creator of a work that gives an answer like this, see Shrug of God.


Examples

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    Anime 
  • In Sonic X, Eggman once sent his robots to pick up an impossible amount of supplies from the hardware store.
    Decoe: How are we supposed to carry all of this?
    Eggman: With a great degree of difficulty.
  • In Naruto:
    Naruto: Pervy sage, how did you know that I have two kinds of chakra?
    Jiraiya: Because I am a sage.
    Naruto: That didn't explain anything.
  • In Dragon Ball Z
    Gotenks: Piccolo, tell me the truth. Do you think there's any way that I can beat this guy?
    Piccolo: I think there's a way to succeed in everything, you just have to be serious about it.
    Gotenks: That's no answer!
  • In Bleach: The following exchange is lampshaded by Souken when Uryuu asks if what Ryuuken said is true. Souken explains it's Metaphorically True but Uryuu's too young to understand that Ryuuken's only given an obvious and practical answer that completely side-steps the question of "hate" entirely.
    Uryuu: Father, why do you hate being a Quincy?
    Ryuuken: You can't make a living from it.
  • In Nichijou: When Sasahara is asked what the frilly thing is that he is wearing, he laughs and responds by saying how extraordinary life is.
  • In the 3rd OVA to Fushigi Yuugi
    Tamahome: "Is this all Mayo's fault?"
    Taiitsukun: "Perhaps it is, and perhaps it is not."

    Film 
  • In Fight Club, after the chemical burn scene, Marla asks what happened to the narrator's hand. Tyler has asked the narrator not to talk to Marla about him.
    Marla: Who did that to you?
    Narrator: A person.
  • In First Blood, when Rambo is asked what he hunts with his huge knife, he responds simply, "Game."
  • In Dorm Life, Josh asks Danny B about his documentary:
    Josh: So, uh, what'd you think about my doc, Dan?
    Danny B: Uh, yeah, it was just the right length.
    Josh: Uh-huh. But, uh, what about the content?
    Danny B: Yes, it was there too.
  • Discussed in the Babylon 5 movie Thirdspace:
    Sheridan: I will take your proposal under consideration.
    IPX Agent: That's bureaucratese for F-off.
  • Lampshaded in Lawrence of Arabia
    Jackson Bentley: You gonna be a democracy in this country? You gonna have a parliament?
    Sherif Ali: I will tell you that when I have a country. [Brief pause] Did I answer well?
    Jackson Bentley: You answered without saying anything. That's politics.
  • In the movie The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, the Governor's song, "Dance a Little Sidestep" spoofs politicians' tendency to give these.
  • The War Game
    American Nuclear Strategist: After a nuclear attack on the United States would people live as they're accustomed too? With automobiles, ranch houses, freezers, and television and so on? No one can say.
  • Zootopia: Judy is nervous about having to speak at a press conference, so Nick tells her that instead of answering the questions, she should respond by stating a different question and then answering that one. This works out well for her at first, but as the questions come at her more quickly and with more intensity, she starts to slip up and give more straightforward answers, ultimately leading to her making some rather careless and insensitive comments that help dramatically heighten racial tensions and severely damage her friendship with Nick.

    Literature 
  • The Bible:
    • Karen Armstrong claims that the Biblical "I am that I am" is a Non-Answer. However, monotheists understand this as an expression of the idea that God exists by himself for himself, and is the uncreated Creator who is independent of any concept, force, or entity.
    • Similarly, some view "Thou sayest it," the answer Jesus gives to Pilate's question "Art thou king of the Jews?", as a Non-Answer. Does Jesus mean "Yep, you said it; you got that right," or "That's what you say; I never made that claim"? (Jesus Christ Superstar understands it in the latter sense.). However, this does have to be weighed against his other statements (that he existed before Abraham, that seeing him is the same as seeing God, that he could forgive sins, that he is the judge, that he can grant eternal life etc.)
    • "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's" (as an answer to whether the Jewish people should pay taxes to the Romans) is considered by some as a Non-Answer. The questioners were trying to trap Jesus into making a statement either way, at which point they would either declare him to be a Roman sympathizer to the Jews, or declare him to be a Judean revolutionary to the Romans. A more detailed examination reveals a deeper meaning (especially noting his question regarding whose image is on the coin that's used to pay the tax). Thus: It is fine to pay taxes (i.e. render the coin unto Caesar, since it has his image on it), but we should devote our whole lives to God (since we are made in God's image). Even Jesus' enemies were impressed at how he avoided that rhetorical trap.
  • In Lest Darkness Fall, Padway dodges inquiries about his religion (a touchy subject in sixth-century Ostrogothic Italy) by saying that he's a "Congregationalist", which he describes as "the closest thing to (name of questioner's religion) in my country".
  • In the Principia Discordia:
    Greater Poop: Is Eris true?
    Malaclypse the Younger: All things are true.
    Greater Poop: Even false things?
    Malaclypse the Younger: Even false things are true.
    Greater Poop: How can that be?
    Malaclypse the Younger: I don't know man, I didn't do it.
    • And that's just the first page
  • Karlsson on the Roof, who's like some kind of a modern, urban fairy looking like a smallish man with a propeller on his back, but acting childishly, will only answer to questions about his age by saying he's "at his prime".
  • The people of Taveye in DO NOT TAKE THE SHELLS give these to Harris.
    Harris: Say, I was wondering... what is up with that sign on the beach? The one that says not to take the shells?
    Woman: It's so that people won't take the shells with them.
    Harris: Why can't they?
    Woman: Well... it's better for the shells to stay on the beach, you see.
  • In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo seems to imply this trope, possibly as a bit of snark toward Gildor:
    Frodo: And it is also said, "Go not to the elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes."

     Live-Action TV 
  • Lampshaded several times in Babylon 5, possibly due to the many times it was played straight, what with the Vorlons, and the Minbari, and Lorien...
    Ta'lon: "That was a stirring reply, G'Kar. However, while all answers are replies, not all replies are answers."
    • Kosh in particular did it so much that Sheridan sniped at him about it more than once.
    Sherdian: I really hate it when you do that.
    Kosh: Good.
  • The Big Bang Theory: Leonard Hofstadter's mother:
    Beverly: Your uncle Floyd died.
    Leonard: Oh my God, what happened?
    Beverly: His heart stopped beating.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Killed By Death":
    Xander: You don't know how to kill this thing.
    Buffy: I thought I might try violence.
    Xander: Solid call.
    • And in "Him":
    Dawn: Last night, you said you weren't helping Spike out of pity. What is it [if not that]?
    Buffy: It's a good question. (sips her drink through a straw)
    Dawn: Is sitting there drinking soda some kind of a Zen non-answer?
  • Angel, "Power Play"
    Wesley: The small stuff that you can't worry about, would that include Fred?
    Angel: I loved Fred.
    Wesley: That's not an answer.
    Angel: Then I guess you don't get one.
  • On Lost, when Locke asks Ben how deep the Orchid station is, he simply says that it's "Deep."
  • Teal'c was a master of the non-answer in Stargate SG-1. For example:
    Jack O'Neill: So what's your impression of Alar?
    Teal'c: That he is concealing something.
    Jack O'Neill: Like what?
    Teal'c: I am unsure, he is concealing it.
  • From Better Off Ted:
    Interviewer: Can you describe your job?
    Veronica: Yes.
    Interviewer: ...How would you describe your job?
    Veronica: Cleverly.
  • Sir Humphrey in Yes, Minister is not fond of giving straight answers. When pressed for one, he exaggerates this trope instead, talking for thirty seconds without saying anything at all.
    "Well, minister, if you asked me for a straight answer, then I should say that, as far as we can see, looking at it by and large, taking one time with another, in terms of the average of departments, then in the final analysis, it is probably true to say, that at the end of the day in general terms, you would probably find, that, not to put too fine a point on it, there probably wasn't very much in it one way or the other. As far as one can see. At this stage."
  • In an early-season episode of Mash, Hawkeye and Trapper are trying to get an incubator for the hospital lab. After several failed attempts, they end up posing as journalists at a press conference, and we are treated to the following:
    Hawkeye: General, can you tell us why M.A.S.H. units never get any incubators?
    General: Our people have this question under scrutiny at the moment. If this scrutinization should yield negative, then I feel that we must maximize our efforts.
    • After Hawkeye presses (and is rebuffed), Trapper is recognized:
    General: You have a question?
    Trapper: Yes, I do. Why don't you answer his question?
    • In a later episode, Hawkeye himself is accused of doing this as he attempts to avoid having to tell a patient that his bloodwork revealed he has leukemia.
  • In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One" (S02, Ep21), the Yellow-Eyed Demon is very good at deflecting Sam's questions or only answering with an answer that he wants Sam to have.
    Sam: Where’s my brother?
    Yellow-Eyed Demon: Quit worrying about Dean. I’d worry more about yourself.
  • QI has an example given by host Stephen Fry that is immediately called out by a panellist, who asks how big a stalactite they're talking about is:
    Phill Jupitus: How big is it?
    Stephen Fry: Vast, is the answer.
    Phill Jupitus: Thanks for that. "How big is it?" [as Stephen] "Oh, very. If I was to quantify its bigness would be doing it a disservice! To say just how bigly big, the vastly big bigness of the dripping thing..." I want feet, meters, anything! Throw me a f***ing bone, Fry!
  • Star Trek: Voyager
    Chakotay: Can I ask you a question, off the record? If things had happened differently, and we were on the Maquis ship now instead of Voyager, would you have served under me?
    Janeway: One of the nice things about being Captain is that you can keep some things to yourself.
  • Community: In "Introduction to Teaching", Jeff asks his "Fundamentals of Law" class if they have any questions.
    Student: Will there be a syllabus?
    Jeff: "Will there be a syllabus" is a good example of a question. Anything else?
  • In the first episode of Bar Karma, when Dayna asks James where he thinks Doug is, James answers "Somewhere between the beginning and the end."

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Zits: When Connie asks Jeremy whether he was at Pierce's house instead of going to a movie like he claimed, Jeremy says that he's not going to lie to her. When Connie says that's not an answer, Jeremy replies that it's also not a lie and she can't punish him. He's wrong on that last point.

    Radio 
The Ricky Gervais Show: When Karl is explaining his first film pitch.
Karl: Why is that so weird when, that's what they do now. That's what they do now.
Ricky: What is?
Karl: That's what they do.
Ricky: What?!
Karl: They do that.
Ricky & Steve: WHAT?!

    Theater 
  • In Hamlet, Polonius asks Hamlet what he is reading. Hamlet's response: "Words, words, words."
  • In A Chorus Line, the director asks the cast what they would do if, one day, they could no longer dance. Would they have anything at all to fall back on? They don't answer, instead they sing "What I Did For Love," about moving towards tomorrow without regret or pain, which is a great song, but doesn't answer the specific question that the director posed.
  • In The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, the governor sings the song "The Sidestep", about how he loves to evade the answers to reporter's questions.
  • In the Robin Hood play Nottingham, Robin Hood goes to Friar Tuck for advice on where he should be the following Sunday. The following exchange occurs:
    Friar Tuck: Listen to your heart. You know where you must be on Sunday.
    Robin Hood: Yes, I know where I must be. Indeed, I know where I must be.
    Friar Tuck: That's a cryptic non-answer! You can't put that past me, I'm a priest! I know cryptic non-answers!

     Video Games 
  • Protip: To kill the cyberdemon shoot at it until it dies
  • The Shivah enables you to respond to almost every question with a "Rabbinic Answer", which is essentially just answering the question with another question. To be fair, the point of these questions seems to be to make your interrogator realize the answer on his/her own... It only works sometimes though, as most of the time people react with impatience when you try it.
  • Mass Effect 3:
    Padok Wiks: ...In the interests of science, how do Krogan mate?
    Eve: Very clumsily.
    Padok Wiks: And there we have it. Could be worth writing a paper someday.
    • If you decide to boot Diana Allers off of the Normandy, Shepard doesn't even bother to give her a reason when asked; s/he merely replies, "What do you think?"
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, this is how the postman responds to Anju's questions if you listen to their conversation about Kafei's letter (though if you listen to them again, the postman says it's a secret):
    Anju: Ah! Wait! This letter, wh-where did you?!?
    Postman: From the postbox.
    Anju: Th-that's not what I mean! From the postbox where?!?
    Postman: From the postbox somewhere.
    Anju: That's not what I mean!
  • Saints Row: The Third: Cyrus Temple may be a capable military commander but he is absolutely terrible when it comes to public speaking. At his press conference introducing the STAG Initiative, he proved incapable of handling even the most basic general information questions, trying to dodge them by arguing the semantics of the question and responding with promotional rhetoric. When Jane Valderamma presses him for a straight answer, Cyrus breaks down at the podium and launches into a Motive Rant steeped in Missing White Woman Syndrome before abruptly ending the press conference.
  • One panelist on a segment of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City's VCPR is Florida's current state congressman and whenever he is fielded a serious question he, like any good caricature of a slimy 80's politician, refocuses the topic until it helps his reply, along with reassuring platitudes and campaign slogans, some Insane Troll Logic and a liberal dose of Ad Hominem against host Maurice Chavez's career. He even outright says that he's going to do this when Chavez brings up a strong point against him near the end:
    Congressman: Well, I'm afraid that's apparently quite a difficult question, but my solution is easy: I'm going to talk for a long time about a subject not in any way related and pretty soon people will forget all about it.

     Web Comics 
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Tom Siddell does this when he doesn't want to answer a fan's question.

     Web Original 
  • In Shadow of the Templar Jeremy is a master of this, as is Ethan.
  • Not Always Right is full of these.
  • asktheendermen explains how Minecraft Endermen teleport.
    Enderman: it is quite simple
  • When Monty Oum was asked in an interview if he planned to kill off characters in RWBY, this was his answer:
    Monty: Well, I'm a big fan of Game of Thrones.
  • Red vs. Blue, when Lopez's disembodied head is somehow operating a mounted machine gun.
    Sarge: ...how was he pulling the triggers?
    Grif: He was very determined.
  • This Is It:
    • In "Don't Hug Me I'm Scared 2":
    Robin: But when did [time] start?
    Manny: And when will it stop?
    Tony: Time is important and I am a clock.
    • In the fourth installment, the computer comes to life because the puppets want to figure out the answer to the question "What is the biggest thing in the world?". He never actually answers the question.

     Western Animation  
  • In Family Guy, Meg comes downstairs with a dress on, in preparation for a prom. She asks Brian, "How do I look Brian?" Brian says, not wanting to either lie to her or insult her, "Ahhhhh... You sure do, Meg."
  • Batman: The Animated Series used it in "Night of the Ninja." When Batman tells Robin that Kyotai is "good" at the martial arts, Robin asks how good he is. Batman reiterates, "Good." (Translation: "Better than me.")
  • Not in-universe (though there probably are several examples to be listed) but if you browse through the Phineas and Ferb wiki you can find the following 'information' about Ferb:
    Age: Less than 15.
    Height: Taller than Buford.
    • How Phineas tells Candace that the Nose Lake Monster is real... she figures it out pretty quickly.
  • In Adventure Time we have Magic Man who gives us this gem.
    Finn: So, how long have you had this house for?
    Magic Man: Yes, that is true!
  • Hey Arnold!: Arnold's bus pass is essentially this.
    Name: Arn(obscured by thumb)
    Born: Yes
  • In Futurama, Bender and Zoidberg try to get Calculon as a backer for their film.
    Bender: And I guarantee it'll win you an Oscar!
    Calculon: An Oscar, you say? That would get me out of this festering rat's nest called "television" once and for all! ... ...And you say you can guarantee me the Oscar?
  • In The Simpsons episode Homer vs. The Eighteenth Amendment, Homer is using hollow bowling balls to smuggle illicit beer.
    Marge: Why do you have so many bowling balls?
    Homer: I'm not gonna lie to you, Marge. (proceeds to get in his car and drive off)
  • Pasila has an example of a ridiculously loaded question being deflated with a simple answer that's... well...
    Juhani Kontiovaara: What the hell are you blaming the media for? Are you menstruating or do you simply want to live in Albania?
    The male interviewee: Yes.
  • Jeremie Belpois of Code Lyoko answered with a noise when Odd asked him if losing power is supposed to happen.
    Odd: That's what I thought. You're using your "I hate to say it, but you bombed the exam" voice.

    Other 
  • Jack Handey played it for laughs: "When my little nephew asked if the equator was a real line around the Earth or an imaginary one, I just laughed. Laughed and laughed. I laughed because I didn't know the answer, and I hoped if I laughed long enough, he'd forget the question."
  • Probably happened to you at some point: "Why can't I do X?" "Because I said so.". Of course, whether this is a non-answer depends on your point of view
    • Or;
    Q: "How do I do [task]?"
    A: "Very [adjective]ly."
  • Question: "What's For Dinner/What do you want for dinner?" Answer: "Food"
  • Rule 34 variant:
    Q: "How do(es) he/she/they [squicky or improbable sex act]?"
    A: "Very carefully."
    • Or the clean version - same answer, but the Question is "How do porcupines kiss?"

     Real Life 
  • When asked in one of the interviews what happened with Russian military submarine Kursk, Vladimir Putin answered "It sunk". (Which is also a grammatically incorrectly translated non-answer, as he should've said "It sank". The Russian quote "Она утонула", is grammatically correct but still both a non-answer and incredibly cynical.)
  • Urban Legend: When Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he reportedly replied "Because that's where the money is."
  • When famous mountaineer George Mallory was asked why he wants to climb Mount Everest he replied "Because it is there." (Mallory died on Everest in 1924. It's unknown whether he reached the summit)
    • xkcd hid a joke about this in the gigantic scrolling strip with a character saying that the phrase sounds better than "because I'm rich enough for my goals to be arbitrary".
  • A classic Zen-Buddhist answer to the Confucian Armor-Piercing Questionnote  (since everyone, even the lowest peasants, seem to have 'aspects of the The Buddha's nature' as far as all these newfangled prayer-mongerers are concerned) "Do dogs have Buddha-nature too?" The Buddhist answer Wú or Mu, in Classical Chinese and Japanese respectively, is a cross between a Non-Answer and a Mathematician's Answer. In Classical Chinese 'wú' is a 'negator-of-existence', i.e. there is no or there is nothing of whatever noun comes after it in the sentence... but it's a one-word answer, and it's not clear whether 'wú' refers to the question or the answer (it does not refer to the possession of Buddha-nature because it's a noun-negator, not a verb-negator). The implication is that it doesn't matter because both the question and the answer are meaningless. Consequently the reply is often translated as "It's meaningless". A philosophical STFU to an Armor-Piercing Question. The Other Wiki has a better discussion for those interested.
    • It's also allegedly the ononomatopoeia in Chinese for the sound of a dog's bark, which, if true, injects a pleasant dash of Just for Pun into the Non-Answer.
  • Politicians use these from time to time. And maybe we should leave it at that.
    • Some take it a step further, when their non-answer is pointed out as such by an interviewer they will angrily claim that if they were allowed to finish they would answer the question, most of the time they just provide a more detailed non-answer.
  • Parents can also make use of this trope when their kids ask them questions about sex, or for things the parent doesn't know the answer to. A common one of these non-responses is "you'll understand when you're older."
  • One of the great non-answers in the history of the trope was in Casey Stengel's testimony before Congress on major-league baseball's anti-trust exemption. There is no summary that does it justice, and it's about twenty minutes of non-answer, so read it here.
    • Note also the Coda, when Mickey Mantle was asked to give his own testimony, which he clearly didn't want to do:
    Senator Kefauver: Mr. Mantle, do you have any observations with reference to the applicability of the antitrust laws to baseball?
    Mr. Mantle: My views are about the same as Casey's.
  • Emergency personnel and medical staff are often forced to do this when someone is critically (or fatally) injured, they're asked how the patient is, but they're not at liberty to provide the information. It's typically a variation on "Everything possible is being done."
  • News presenter Jeremy Paxman once interviewed Home Secretary Michael Howard and when faced with an evasive answer, proceeded to repeat the same question 12 times. The government had carried out an inquiry into a series of prison escapes, and in advance of publication Howard had been very critical of the prison service and blamed it for the escapes (rather than, say, admit that the prison service was underfunded.) The result was the political interview as Overly Long Gag. See the Quotes page for a transcript.
  • Among medical types: "Cause of death?" "He stopped breathing / His heart stopped / etc."
    • "Heart failure" is a legitimate answer to (almost) any cause of death. Of course, the real question is why the heart stopped.
  • The answer "Later" or "In a while" is an especially egregious Non-Answer when responding to a question asking "When?" about something, especially when the question is being asked in order to weigh whether to stand and wait or to go and do something more productive while waiting which might only be a good idea if the "while" is a specific (and long) timespan, which a vague Non-Answer of "a while" does less than nothing to clarify.
  • In the 2014-2015 American Football season, the Seattle Seahawks went to the Superbowl, and over the course of their successful season several players were instructed to take part in promotional interviews. Star player Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch, however, notoriously refused to give any interviews, apparently just due to a deep-seated personal dislike of giving interviews in general. However, it was then pointed out to Lynch that his contract actually contained a clause requiring that he had to give interviews upon request of the team owners, or else he would be severely fined thousands of dollars. Lynch's response was to at least sit down for the interviews, but he did a Take That at being forced into the situation by answering every question in a row for 30 minutes by restating "I'm just here so I don't get fined" over and over again. At other interviews he restated over and over again variations of "Thank you for asking that", "That's an interesting question", etc.
  • This is somewhat common in politics, especially political debates: Answering a question with a carefully phrased selection of phrases that sound good but don't really answer anything at all. For safety's sake, probably best just to leave it at that.
    • If we want to be generous, we could say that any straight answer they could give will piss someone off somewhere along the line, and they don't want to burn any bridges unless they absolutely have to. It is also likely that their opponents will be willing to distort any straight answer they give to mean something evil, just to get political points.
    • If taken too far, this leads to "dog whistles", where politicians give a statement that seems like a non-answer, but actually means something politically divisive. It's probably best if we don't give examples.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NonAnswer