There is this trick when you give a person two choices: one which you want her to accept; and the other, which is significantly worse than the first one. This way you create the illusion of choice, and also make the first option look better when contrasted with the second.

In some sense this is anti-decoy: a decoy must attract, while this fake option must repel.

Is there a name for this second, fake option?

  • It sounds like a forced choice. – tylerharms Mar 14 '13 at 12:50
  • You said it yourself, the word is "repellant". – Sayan Mar 14 '13 at 12:56
  • @KeyBrdBasher: but "decoy" isn't quite the same as "attraction"; it has more specific meaning – user2978 Mar 14 '13 at 13:01
  • Decoy Synonyms: bait, trap, imitation, allure, attract. I would very much say that decoy has a lot to do with attraction! – Sayan Mar 14 '13 at 13:05
  • Do either of these appeal? A to shunt is to shove aside, turn away, sidetrack, or to divert. A Submarine Signal and Decoy Ejector (SSDE) is a warfare countermeasure, ejected by a submarine to falsely attract a torpedo. By the way, when I was editor of a technical magazine, I had a designer who would present his favored choice and a lousy alternative. That was his way of getting me to do it his way while maintaining my illusion of choice. – rajah9 Mar 14 '13 at 13:34

The fake option might be called a straw man (“An insubstantial concept, idea, endeavor or argument, particularly one deliberately set up to be weakly supported, so that it can be easily knocked down; especially to impugn the strength of any related thing or idea”).

A term that almost works, but probably not quite: stalking horse (“A horse used as cover by a hunter stalking game” or “A candidate put forward instead of any of several potentially successful candidates in order to initiate a leadership debate, gauge feelings, divide opposition etc”).

While plausible and perhaps suitable meanings for “forced choice” and “mental forcing” have been suggested in another answer, note that both terms already have some currency with different meanings; forced choice referring to ipsative questions (“a measure that forces an individual to choose among multiple desirable options”), and mental forcing referring to either psychology-of-magic or to certain beliefs.

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This type of situation is often referred to as Hobson's choice (or Hobbs' choice).

It's from Thomas Hobson (1544-1631), a livery stable owner who offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in the stall nearest the door, or taking none at all (to make sure his best horses didn't get overused). Effectively, the "choice" was just take it or leave it.

Thus some people will say the expression implies your only choice is to accept or reject a single option on offer. But in my experience it's also commonly used where superficially there are two or more actual choices available, but all except one are manifestly unacceptable. That's to say, it can be used in situations where there's the illusion of choice, but only one is option is practical.

The best term I can think of for the "fake" alternative is bogus (or sham) choice/option/offer. I don't see that "decoy" fits very well, because usually a decoy is something you're intended to fall for.

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    I think this is different in that Hobbs' choice is between something and nothing. The question seems to be asking about a choice between two somethings (also it seems to be about the somethings, not the choice itself, but that's beside the point of my comment) – horatio Mar 14 '13 at 14:46
  • @horatio: You're obviously one of the "some people" I referred to in my second paragraph. But noting the popularity of the "eggcorn" form Hobbesian choice (as well as Hobbs' choice) there's obviously scope for some other people to assume a different meaning as well as a different etymology. Besides, in OP's example, one of the choices isn't really a credible option anyway, so it's either take the "real" option or go without. – FumbleFingers Mar 14 '13 at 15:55
  • Sorry — my question wasn't clear. I am asking about the name of the fake option. – user2978 Mar 14 '13 at 16:16
  • @R C: Yeah - Hobson's choice doesn't usually refer to the "fake option". It refers to the situation where there isn't really a choice on offer in the first place. I'll edit for the revised question text. – FumbleFingers Mar 14 '13 at 16:28

In magic, this is called a "forced choice" or "mental forcing"

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  • Sorry — my question wasn't clear. I am asking about the name of the fake option. – user2978 Mar 14 '13 at 16:17

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