What are cleverer retorts than 1 and 2 below? 1 and 2 don't deflect busybodies; revealing that busybodies' questions bother you, can incite them to interrogate further.

  1. I'd prefer not to answer that.
  2. I hope you’ll understand that that is a question I would find it embarrassing / indiscreet / a breach of confidentiality / too personal to answer.

I've tried to deflect using humour, but failed:

[ Source :] Bob: “How much are you paid?”
Me: “Half what I’m worth!”

Bob: How much did that cost?
Me:“Not as much as it looks like.” OR
ME:“I got a good deal."

Assume that such bodybodies continue to interrogate, while ignoring any tries to change the subject.

Other examples of prying questions: - What do you do for a living? - What's your occupational history? - What roles did you have before your current role?

  • 1
    Questions on Stack Exchange are best when they're about specific examples. This question is about a broad class of problems, and it's not clear that each of these different problems will have the same solution. I strongly recommend editing this question to make it about a specific situation. (And I also recommend adding, at the very least, a cultural/location tag, which imho is something that should be added to all questions).
    – user288
    Sep 12, 2017 at 2:45
  • 2
    As @Hamlet says, this is way too broad. As the questions you linked show, questions need to be about a specific situation... we can't tell you all the possible witty retorts for all possible inquiries. Pick a inquiry and go from there.
    – Catija
    Sep 12, 2017 at 2:53
  • 6
    Are you writing a book? Yes, it's way too broad. Also, I don't know what ITR means, and I hate it when someone keeps on using the same acronym without explaining what it means first. Sep 12, 2017 at 3:52
  • 2
    I also came to ask about ITR too. Is ITR a person? Canada51 you're alienating visitors, unintentionally, by your (quasi-obsessional) need to be concise. To visitors who are reading this, let me explain, I know the OP from EL&U
    – user3114
    Sep 12, 2017 at 5:58
  • 1
    I voted to reopen because I think this question can be answered and addressed to very well. Even though the number of questions there can be answers to is broad, the situation is all but the same. I think this questions has potential. But then again, I don't know about @Mari-LouA's comment about the related questions. Sep 12, 2017 at 12:49

3 Answers 3


It is important to avoid upsetting the busybody, because people who ask a lot of nosy questions also tend to be gossipy rumor-starters, so if you get on their bad side they might turn into a problem for you. What you want is for them to think you are genuinely boring, and they will leave you alone as soon as they realize you are not a good source of the juicy information that they crave. I recommend neutralizing the busybody in two steps:

  1. The initial deflection. As you pointed out, being very direct (e.g., "I'd rather not answer that") may come across as rude or suspicious. Jokes such as the ones you mentioned can be very effective for the initial deflection. Another less direct way to deflect a nosy question is to make a confused face and earnestly ask the busybody "Hmm why do you ask?" or "Hmm why does that matter?". This will put them on their heels for a moment while they consider how to respond.
  2. The derailment. Abruptly change the topic to something mind numbingly boring (to them). Be careful to pretend like this is a completely genuine and spontaneous topic change, like it just popped into your head. If you are in a work environment, you can bring up some dry work-related topic or even ask them to help you with some work-related thing (e.g., "OH, hey while you're here, could you help me make some photocopies???"). If you are in a social context, then try to find some other topic that they find boring (e.g., college football, your adorable niece, the latest news from North Korea, or really anything you can ramble on about that bores them).

If you do this a few times, usually the busybody will stop approaching you to ask nosy questions because every time they do, they get sucked into some boring task or conversation. It won't make them like you, but it won't make them hate you either- you will simply become useless to them, and they will leave you alone.

  • All these tricks have worked for me in all sorts of social settings.
    – Ahsan
    Jun 5, 2018 at 11:50

I prefer the direct response. This is not an assault but a request for clarification.

"How much did you pay for that?"

"Well actually, where I grew up we didn't talk about money all the time. Where did you grow up?"

This give him (always seems to be) a reasonable retreat by talking about where he is from or that it is none of your business. In any event it changes the subject and cauterizes your spending as a topic. Any further questions should be directed at his answer or the fact that he has not answered.


Some thoughts for you...

  • Most people accept the polite or humorous deflection. Keep in mind that you've tried this and they persisted. They've made their choice.

  • Give one last chance, with a little of the veneer stripped away. "I'm totally not telling you that. So how bout them [local sports team]?"

  • Remember that it is okay to be annoyed at this point, and let it show. If they still persist tell them something useless. "You're starting to annoy me" is a good reply here.

One further thought... You might stop and reconsider which questions you consider inappropriate. You mentioned:

Other examples of prying questions: - What do you do for a living? - What's your occupational history? - What roles did you have before your current role?

That first one, "what do you do for a living" is often the second thing someone will ask you, after your name. It will seem odd if you are not willing to answer that. Consider people's mien and attitude when they speak to you; most of the questions people will ask you are innocuous.

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