Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
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 by 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.
open/close all folders
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.
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 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.
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.
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".
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".
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.
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?
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.
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."
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Gunnerkrigg Court: Tom Siddell does this when he doesn't want to answer a fan's question.
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.
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 Ferbwiki you can find the following 'information' about Ferb:
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
Q:"How do I do [task]?" A:"Very [adjective]ly."
Question: "What's For Dinner/What do you want for dinner?" Answer: "Food"
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 example: 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."
Another real life example: 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".
Real world example: a classic Zen-Buddhist answer to the Confucian Armor-Piercing Questionnote Every iteration/wave of Confucianism has been very much anti-religion and anti-claptrap, being focused on strict law-based governance and morality rather than wishy-washy feelings and philosophy. Consequently, Confucianism has gotten along about as well with Daoism (a wishy-washy vaguely spiritualistic and pantheistic religion akin to Hinduism, Shinto, and classic/original European Paganism) and Chinese-style Buddhism as you'd expect. (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 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 answer or the question. So while the literal translation is "It has no meaning", it's not clear what 'it' is - and indeed, the implication is that it doesn't matter which it is because both the question and the answer are 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.
Parents can also make use of this trope when their kids ask them questions about sex or things the parent doesn't know the answer to.
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 14 times. And 14 times Howard gave increasingly non-committal replies.
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.