I’ve always liked the word squabble: it sounds like it should be used to describe a bunch of ducks at a suburban lake fighting over a stale piece of Wonderbread–lots of noise and feathers over something that is, essentially, nothing. In other words: lots of sound, lots of fury, and lots of signifying nothing. Which is also what makes it the perfect word to describe what my children do from the moment they get up in the morning to the time they pass out in front of the TV at night.
There really isn’t any other word for what they do. You could not call it arguing, because the word argue, despite its Jerry Springer taint, still holds some degree of respectability. After all, arguments are what lawyers make during the opening and closing phase of a trial, and even though nine times out of ten those trials are about something just as inconsequential as avian Wonderbread ownership, they still at least have the potential to be about matters of life and death. This, I assure you, can never be said about the topics Clementine and Clyde have under discussion.
For much the same reason, debate is also out–unless debate teams have changed so dramatically in the years since I was in college that they now include a period during which you have 10 seconds to pummel your opponent until he or she concedes your point. (Again, Jerry Springer notwithstanding.)
Even the word bicker is not adequate, since, despite all of its connotations of mindless, unimportant back-and-forth sparring, it also is almost always associated with married couples, couples who–bizarre as it may seem–have actually chosen to be together in the midst of their arguing. Clementine and Clyde, however, have made it abundantly clear that, for them, this is not the case; in fact, were the entire population of the world to line up as for one gigantic game of kickball in which they were the captains, I have no doubt that each one would pick the other dead last.
So, until a better word comes along, the word for what they do is definitely squabble. No other word comes so close to expressing the sheer meaninglessness of their confrontations, as well as the high level of annoyance experienced by anyone who has to listen to them. I tried to explain this to my husband once, when, after taking note of my frazzled state at the end of the day, he infuriatingly told me to “just ignore them.”
Right. Like I can ignore two people who can turn a simple game of 20 Questions into 20 Squabbles by disagreeing about whether a chicken is a vegetable, or a mineral. (Argument #1: Since Mom says eating a chicken doesn’t really count as eating meat, it is obviously a vegetable. Argument #2: Since people make nuggets out of them, they must be a mineral–like gold.) Ignoring an argument like that would be like trying to ignore the two girls next to you on the ski lift who are having a heated debate about which live Phish tape is the best. It would be like trying to ignore the people behind you at the movies while they argued over which was better: The DaVinci Code or Interview with a Vampire. It would be like trying to ignore your baristas as they argued whether marijuana should be legalized because “da birds eat it” or because “hemp is mentioned in the Bible.” In other words, it would be impossible: at some point your brain simply compels you to put an end to it all by screaming out, “Enough already: you’re both idiots, ok?”
Not that verbal pleas to cease and desist ever work against inane arguments anyway; it’s like trying to get the ducks to stop fighting by throwing more bread at them. Although–who knows–throwing Wonderbread just might work with children.