Everyone knows what a hipster is. Don't they? The word brings to mind a carefully-coiffured beard. The bare, stripped floorboards of a trendy cafe with a chalkboard. A bowl of organic muesli, perhaps, poised over a lumberjack's shirt. The imagery, the cliches are now so embedded. No-one, of course, claims to be a hipster. Though a lot of us probably seem to be one.
Now, what about a 'Nini'? Hmm. A Neither-Nor? Something to do with gender, perhaps? Careful! Ok, other associations. Of adolescent refusal, maybe? Something rebellious? A double negation. Or a void, a non-entity. Something useless.
Now you're getting warmer. 'Nini', like 'hipster', applies to a demographic. Unlike hipster it is defined exclusively by socio-economic status.
'Nini' derives from the English acronym 'NEET'. The English word was first coined by an organization called the Social Exclusion Task Force (SEU). Providing statistical breakdowns of UK employment and education figures, its reports had previously used the notoriously bleak term 'Status Zero' to classify youths between the ages of 16 and 24 who were 'Not in Education, Employment or Training'.
In recognition of the negative connotations of the term 'Status Zero', the SEU in 1999 preferred to use 'NEET'. Or, 'Not in Education, Employment or Training'. Not as starkly disinheriting in tone as Status Zero, the term 'Neet' spread quickly. It became a buzzword.
The reports by the SEU had originally been part of a larger task to indentify the range of social and economic problems encountered by young people which inhibited their professional or academic possibilities. However, in the media, the term was given a negative interpretation. Newspapers hadn't been comfortably able to talk of Status Zeros, but they were more than happy to use its vaguer-sounding replacement. In some quarters of the media the word Neet became a lazy way of referring to a demographic of never-do-wells.
An article in The Times referred to Neets as the 'yobs hanging around off-licenses into the night.' According to one BBC News commentator, Neets were 'twenty times more likely to commit a crime and 22 times more likely to be a teenage mum.' Never mind if you were looking after sick relatives, were disabled, were on sick leave or were actively seeking a chosen career path without success, you were classified in the 16.2 percentile of the nation's youth regarded as Neets; you were useless for the economy, a burden on the taxpayer. This led to what the sociologist Karen Robinson described as the 'virtual usurpation' of 'discussions of youth employment'. Generation Neet was born, a media creation. And in the media's mind, it was too busy guzzling cider, takeway chips and benefits to work or study.
Meanwhile, equivalent words sprang up in other countries to represent their own young unemployed. In Spain, the term was adapted into 'NINI', a shortening of the legend, 'Ni Estudia Ni Trabaja' (Neither Works Nor Studies).
It's a term that has been cropping up in Spanish newspapers with greater frequency. A piece in La Vanguardia on August 12 spoke of a considerable 'increment in the percentage of Ninis during the last decade. ' 'One in five Spanish youths between the ages of 20 and 24,' the article's headline announced, 'don't work and don't study'.
The article based its data on a report by the European Union's 'Eurostat' bureau. This report by Eurostat was according to La Vanguardia released specially in time for the celebration on Friday 12 of the Dia Intercional de la Joventud, International Day of Youth.
The piece continued, '22.2% of Spanish youths neither studied nor worked in 2015, which puts Spain among the 10 European states with the highest amount of 'Ninis', level with Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania.' The article was accompanied by a photograph of two men drunkenly grappling on the floor of a plaza beside empty bottles of beer.
In a Spain with increasingly costly education, thin career prospects (22.7% unemployment in 2015) and a growing drain of its young workforce to other countries (emigration figures doubled between 2012 and 2015), 'Nini' is a cruelly blunt term. There is a sense it reduces the problematic panorama faced by today's school-leavers into what sounds like a form of voluntary nihilism. Or uselessness. Or both.
While 'Neet' sounds beguilingly vague, there is something gleefully childish about the Spanish term 'Nini'. To an English mind it summons images of Monty Python's superstitious Knights gathering furtively in the penumbrous depths of the forest, heckling outsiders and demanding shrubberies as tribute. To a Spanish ear it sounds like a child putting its hands over its ears and refusing to play along.
It all leaves a sense that soundbytes are spun out of control, with startingly little sense of resonsibility, to give dangerously misleading messages. They can reduce the myriad shades of aspiration/hope of young Europeans to a crude narrative of moral decadence and apathy. Before Clint Eatstwood appears, narrowing his eyes and complaining about a 'pussy generation' and political correctness (as he has done in a recent interview where he lambasts the taboo-ification of words commonly used by his generation), what is needed is not a veto of such words or even a replacement word or clearer definitions. But accurate applications of the term, in less misleading contexts. And empathy. Much more empathy. Otherwise, in the end, you can't have a beard without being a hipster.