Casual talk can be fun; it can be interesting. One can learn a lot from such an experience. I, for instance, go to Starbucks just about every day, and sit with the same people. They are very interesting people, and in our coffee klatch we cover a myriad of topics from politics, religion, and the weather to books, movies, and the arts. I go so regularly because I learn something new almost every day.
Our talk is varied and spontaneous, but I wouldn’t call it idle. In my mind, “idle talk” tends toward the gossipy, sometimes destructive brand of conversation that is dangerous and sometimes damaging. That is what is called nattering. To be nattering the conversation tends to be so casual as to avoid facts. It is based upon gossip, speculation, and personal biases.
The word nattering comes from 18th or 19th century England, where the word took on the meaning of “grousing, or grumbling.” There is a sense in which that same meaning applies today. Political articles or reports will indicate that the campaign staff of a politician met together to analyze the presentation, and spent several hours nattering about the way in which their candidate was treated. It is more than analyzing…it is picking apart the competition’s commentary, whether it is warranted or not.
Similarly, it can be after-the-wedding discussions about the appearance of the bride, her family’s failings, or the decor of the reception. The implication is that the content of the nattering was negative or critical. I can think of examples of this word that apply to almost anything: a dramatic presentation, the introduction of a new boss, the style choices of a fashion show, or even the food served at an art gallery’s exhibit. There is no end to the possibilities.
Nattering is very close to gossip. It may or may not include factual information, but the tone of the conversation is whiny and has a good dosage of grumbling. One of the settings for nattering is the proverbial water cooler at the office. For many years it has been depicted as a place of idle chatter and gossip. Few great ideas originate from the water cooler.
Many people find themselves totally bored, turned off, or frustrated with nattering. Others, however, thrive on it.
Photo Credit: sam’s weekly water cooler