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raven860's avatar

Why do people respond with "I don't know what you are talking about"?

Asked by raven860 (2179points) July 16th, 2012

That phrase is so prevalent it just says in a screaming fashion that “I am guilty”.

Are people not wise enough to come up with something more original?

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21 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

I didn’t see any problem with it. What specifically don’t you like?

Aethelflaed's avatar

Because, sometimes, we don’t know what you are talking about. Like, now.

LittleLemon's avatar

Maybe it’s become the “guilty response” in mainstream cinema, but I don’t find that to be the case in real life.

Maybe they say it ‘cause they be trollin’.

CWOTUS's avatar

I don’t know what you’re talking about.

jca's avatar

Maybe because they really don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Really really no clue. For example, the question you asked. What exactly are you talking about?

harple's avatar

So, just to check, (and it’s taken me about 5 read-throughs to get to this,) you mean:

When people are challenged over something, or accused of something, why do they respond with that particular phrase? You are suggesting that the phrase itself is a give away that they are in fact guilty as charged. You think that if people came up with a different phrase, it wouldn’t be as obvious?

If you are talking about on the screen though, we, the audience, need/appreciate these clues to keep up with the plot.

If you’re talking about in your real life, then it’s probably one of two things – either they can’t think of anything else to say in the heat of the moment, or perhaps, just perhaps, they are totally innocent and genuinely have no idea what you are talking about.

augustlan's avatar

Yeah, I wouldn’t consider “I don’t know what you’re talking about” a sure sign of guilt. How the phrase is delivered might give you a clue, but guilty behavior would likely accompany any other phrase a guilty person said, too. Where do you get this idea?

Sunny2's avatar

Isn’t that preferable to “You don’t know what you‘re talking about?”

raven860's avatar

@JLeslie , @Aethelflaed

Well, what I meant was that when some people are accused of a certain action [and they are guilty about it], “I don’t know what you are talking about” is the default phrase they run to.

For example an elderly foreign neighbor once broke our yard door. It was because he was banging really hard on it to protest the gardener using his lawn mower ( a common practice in the neighborhood). I later went to our neighbors house to notify him of the damage and just to talk to him ( the actual owner of the home is the elderly man’s son). When I started telling him about it he immediately got defensive and started reciting the phrase ‘I don’t know what you are talking about”. An all out confrontation was not what I was after and noticing the tension increasing I decided to change the subject to a more friendly one to mend our relationship (i.e he had asked us about the gardeners as he was interested in hiring them also). I asked him if he wanted to see how the work they had done and he agreed and came by for a look. We had a small pleasant tension-less chat and then as he was leaving he simply apologized for his father’s actions and well we are on better terms now.

So, similarly I have come across quite a few incidents where people like to recite the “I don’t know what you are talking about” phrase. [Please let me know if its still unclear]. I have also seen it in television where once a detective was questioning a manager and the manager simply replied “I don’t know what you are talking about”. To which the detective reacted by smiling and saying that the manager was not in trouble and the police simply needed his cooperation.

I mean to an extent it makes sense because you are not saying anything incriminating literally, however, sometimes when and how it is said can very easily imply that the person is either guilty or hiding something.

raven860's avatar

@harple Yes you got it correct and summed up the few different scenarios possible. I apologize for being vague.

Jussange's avatar

When someone actually does know about the subject but not that many other people are aware that this person is aware, it is actually a good way to avoid the topic altogether and shed any real self-incrimination until solid evidence that they do know is brought up. If someone says they don’t know and no one has reason to suspect otherwise, then how is it self incriminating to say, “I don’t know?”

and sometimes, they really don’t know.

raven860's avatar

Yes I agree that whenever you hear “I don’t know what you are talking about” it does not automatically mean guilt but given the number of instances I have encountered and from what I have seen in the media it seems as if it is the most common phrase used by someone guilty to avert suspicion when questioned.

Based on the responses, I am guessing its not as common as I thought it might be.

JLeslie's avatar

@raven860 Oh. Now I understand better. I guess people say it because they either don’t know what you are talking about or are trying to act like they have no idea what you are talking about.

The only reason it would imply guilt to me is if any normal person who didn’t know about the situation would be more likely to ask what had happened or for the person to clarify in some way. I don’t think the phrase really implies guilt though. What usually implies someone is lying is they answer a question not asked or ramble on with too much information.

jca's avatar

I don’t take any one statement as an indication of guilt (unless it’s an outright confession or admission). To me, someone saying “I don’t know what you are talking about” does not equate to “I did it.”

ucme's avatar

Aye dinna ken where ya coming from.

Berserker's avatar

@augustlan Yeah, I wouldn’t consider “I don’t know what you’re talking about” a sure sign of guilt. How the phrase is delivered might give you a clue, but guilty behavior would likely accompany any other phrase a guilty person said, too. Where do you get this idea?

Bold text agrees.

Also I never actually got arrested before. honest

DigitalBlue's avatar

I assume that the OP means people who say this when confronted with an accusation of having done something wrong. Rather than talking it out, their reaction is to “play dumb.”

Unless the person sincerely doesn’t know what you mean, it usually says to me that not only did they probably do/have involvement with whatever they’re being confronted about, they are not remorseful about it, either. But, this depends very much on tone. They really might not know what you’re talking about. It isn’t an instant declaration of guilt.

Jenniehowell's avatar

In my life most people say “I don’t know what you’re talking about” as a replacement for saying the translation which is “I’m hoping you’re too stupid to have collected proof or too weak to continue to challenge me”.

Hence the reason I tend more often than not to collect a plethora of evidence prior to such confrontations that may result in the “I don’t know what you’re talking about” response. This way the video, audio, email etc. can serve to remind them or to give the proper authorities means with which to remind them when they are being read their rights & reminded of their court date.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

More polite than “Huh!”

jca's avatar

@ZEPHYRA: More polite then “What the f are you talking about?”

shasha05's avatar

All depends on the context…if your calling out on someone’s bluff for instance…then they might say that…or they just don’t know what your talking about…you can usually tell by their face expression.

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