The rules of “Dibs Not” are as simple as they are unforgiving.
First, a group is confronted with a task, which the group finds distasteful or otherwise unpleasant. In order to avoid said task, all members of the group immediately shout out the words “Dibs Not!” while simultaneously putting their index fingers on or next to their noses. The last person to complete the “Dibs Not!”/ finger-on-nose combo must essentially “take one for the team” and do the unpleasant task.
And there you have it: the glorious exercise in adolescent avoidance that is “Dibs Not.”
Of course, you probably won’t find these rules written out anywhere else. It’s not exactly something a person sits down and explains to someone. But I outlined the rules here for the sake of parents everywhere. Believe me, Mom and Dad: you’re going to want to know about this.
Fortunately, the premise of “Dibs Not” is probably not completely unfamiliar to you. After all, Americans have calling “dibs” on things they want (“Dibs chair!” “Dibs the last brownie!”) for a long time—since at least the 1930s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. If you can “dibs” something desirable, it only follows you can “dibs not” something undesirable.
And the “finger-on-the-nose” thing? That, apparently, is the insurance policy. In the case of a “Dibs Not” photo finish, the person who last applies digit to nose is the loser.
Some folks may dismiss “Dibs Not” as a rip-off of “Not It,” that great battle cry from Tag, but in fact, “Dibs Not” trumps “Not It” in several key areas.
For one thing, you’ve got the versatility factor. While “Not It” only holds dominion over the playground, “Dibs Not” reigns over the entire school. In the cafeteria, for example, students might yell, “Dibs not cleaning up the table!” Or the classroom teacher who asks for volunteers to write on the board might find herself serenaded by an entire chorus of “Dibs Not!”
Then there’s the sheer longevity of “Dibs Not.” While a definite ceiling looms over “Not It” (which effectively dies when kids stop playing Tag), students play “Dibs Not” throughout elementary school, well into middle school, and beyond.
In fact, I first learned about “Dibs Not” when I started teaching high school. All of my students were doing it—including the seniors. That’s right: the ones on the verge of college, the ones at or near voting age, who can legally buy the “Rated M for Mature” videogames they’ve already been playing for years… they too indulged in the Dibs Not Dance.
Why do they do it, and how do they all know about it? No one can say for sure, not even the students themselves. They could only assure me that it isn’t peculiar to my school; no, “Dibs Not” thrives in communities across the nation— in spirit, at least, if not exactly in name.
For example, one student told me at her friend’s school they do “Shotty Not” instead of “Dibs Not.”
“Shotty Not?” I asked.
“Yeah, short for ‘shotgun.’ You know, what you yell when you want the front seat of a car?” She then paused and, remembering she was talking to a teacher, asked, “You have heard of ‘shotgun,’ right?”
Now, for those who think that “Dibs Not” only reinforces the long-standing belief that “kids these days” are always trying to get out of work and shirk responsibility… well, I’d have a hard time refuting that. They are trying to get out of work when they play “Dibs Not”; that’s the whole point of the game. But consider this: somehow, the work does get done, and virtually without incident.
In fact, over the past seven years, never once did any of the “Dibs not!” duels I’ve witnessed result in an argument, because the stragglers—the last ones to say the magic words—ultimately do their parts without fussing about it. They know the score; they understand the system, and they know they lost fair and square.
Then it hit me: the most remarkable thing about “Dibs Not” is not that all teenagers do it, but that they all abide by it. That, to me, takes honor.
Tricky concept, honor. Maybe it means respecting people. Maybe it means doing what’s right even if it’s inconvenient or unpopular. It’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it.
And in my job, as a high school teacher, I see examples of honor all the time: teens starting fundraisers, or traveling to Florida over spring break to build houses for the poor, or just generally supporting one another. Oh, I’m not letting them off the hook here. They don’t always clean up after themselves, they may plagiarize their Toni Morrison essays, and they can drive you absolutely batty on occasion. But overall, and especially in terms of their personal interactions, they show great loyalty and compassion and honor
And that, my dear parents, brings me to why you need to know about “Dibs Not” in the first place: your child’s intrinsic sense of honor and nobility is something you can exploit.
At a loss about what to do about that son of yours who never does any chores? Simple: rope him against his will into a “Dibs Not” session.
Let’s say, for example, you’re finishing up dinner, and you casually say to the table, “Who’s going to clear the dishes?” Then, without pausing even a nanosecond, shout out “Dibs Not!” and place your finger on your nose.
Or better yet: walk into a room and say, “Who wants to clean the cat box? Dibs Not!”
In both instances, you’ll catch your lazy-boned son completely off-guard. Plus, he’ll have to do the task. Those are the rules of “Dibs Not,” after all. Your son knows that, and his pesky sense of honor won’t allow him to refuse. It’s a virtually water-tight plan.
The way I see it, you can complain about what the “Dibs Not” phenomenon says about “kids these days,” or you can use your child’s own avoidance tactic to your advantage. But before you spring a “Dibs Not!” on your unsuspecting offspring, remember the following:
One: make sure you put your index finger on or next to your nose as you say “Dibs Not!”—or run the risk of looking foolish.
And two: Practice the “Dibs Not!”/nose combination in front of the mirror before hand, to make sure you got your timing down. After all, in addition to being honorable, kids these days are pretty darn quick.