I have an interest in philosophy, argument, and reason. The problem I'm having is I take on all kinds of opponents and so sometimes when I'm reasoning with people that aren't accustomed to how frustrating and pointless it can be to not have a contextual and topical consensus for the scope of the conversation, I'm forced to make many elaborate diversions from the argument scolding my opponent on the importance of staying on topic - etc. Its soooo frustrating. I'm kind of happy with the phrase "diverging from the topical/contexual scope" to try to bring the argument on track as quick as possible, but I have another even more frustrating issue in need of that perfect word/phrase :).

I've been arguing with a psychologist lately and we have some interesting chats on the iPhone. I have trouble keeping her on topic so we can take something to it's logical conclusion, but I can sort of manage that. Its especially frustrating on the iPhone because you can only type so fast and so you must stay on topic and "play by the rules" as they say or its doubly frustrating.

Every now and again she will take my frustration on her going off topic constantly as a reflection of "my inner angst and hurt emanating from my childhood". The more my frustration builds at what the hell that had to do with our arguments on the nature of consciousness, the more she pushes the point; "why do you have so much hurt, we need to get to the bottom of this" in a more and more condescending way. She sets up for herself a tautology that creates a false cause for any increasing frustration. If I can get her off my inner hurt, she brings it up again when she disagrees with a conclusion - "you're saying something illogical as a reflection of your inner conflict from your hurt". As you might be able to imagine it's an argument ending thing and I have to just say "look, I've got to go - talk later". I've even tried saying "yeah I'm hurt, but lets just finish this discussion first and talk about that next" simply to try to stop from talking about everything at once.

Whats the word for this ploy that is inherently tautological and slightly ad hominem in nature and makes further discussion useless. A blanket statement? Another one I just thought of would be an ignorant person dismissing any argument a woman comes up with that disagrees with his being as a result of her being "on the time of the month". The frustration the woman would feel from being so cruelly disarmed would feed into the accusation nicely (tautological), much like the "your angry cause your hurt" ploy used by my opponent.

Is there a tidy phrase or term for these tactics?

  • 1
    It's a red herring. May 8, 2014 at 4:00
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    Sounds like your opponent is just following different argumentation tactics than you. From your description I could almost see that your opponent might say similar things of you (that you keep talking about things irrelevant to her). I don't think there's a label explicitly for this beyond 'talking past each other'. But supposing that you are keeping on topic and she's not, then I'd say she's 'going off on tangents', or just making argument points that are irrelevant. (the 'you're angry because you're hurt' argument could be an ad hominem fallacy/irrelevancy or it could actually be relevant.
    – Mitch
    May 8, 2014 at 13:24
  • @Mitch certainly! Absolutely you would have no way of knowing for sure whether I'm twisting a situation to try to gain proponents to make myself feel better (pathetic - sure, but its a possibility). I'm not, but I accept you have no real way of knowing this :).
    – Mike S
    May 9, 2014 at 1:20

5 Answers 5


Oh, the old 'time of the month' card. Yes, been on the receiving end of that!

Words such as 'scheming', 'stratagem' and 'wily' come to mind when reading through your question. I'm not sure there's a particular term for what your psychologist friend is doing, but you can certainly use those words I mentioned for describing her actions.

  • scheming to get you to admit an inner pain you may or may not have to hopefully keep you distracted from the pain point you were discussing

  • she could be using this distraction as her main stratagem so she doesn't have the embarrassment of admitting she's wrong

  • the way in which she uses your 'inner pain' and continues to come back to it is a wily way to gain an advantage

A friend of mine wanted to be psychologist and spent his lunch-times at school trying to get us to admit to tragic events in our past that brought with them emotional baggage to our present day lives. It wasn't fun.

If you want to stop her from using this tactic against you, just tell her she's 'resorting to her profession to question your sanity/beliefs in a way that seeks to demean your point of view rather than discussing the topic itself' or something like that.

However, if you yourself go off-track and wish to bring yourself back to the topic, you can say 'but I digress' and continue.

  • Thank you. Lots of excellent points. The winning one was the response I should give her "'resorting to her profession to question your sanity/beliefs in a way that seeks to demean your point of view rather than discussing the topic itself'". I don't think she is using it as a tactic or scheming as such, I think she was doing it more or less unwittingly, all the while enjoying the annoyance it gives me.
    – Mike S
    May 8, 2014 at 4:04
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    If she's new to the profession, she's probably just happy to use her new-found skills. If not, she probably just loves her work!
    – Mogginson
    May 8, 2014 at 5:45

Paralogism: 1.argument violating principles of valid reasoning. 2.a conclusion reached through such argument. The person who keeps on bringing up the same re-worded idea is using a commoratio

  • I like that one. I'll commit that word to memory - thanks.
    – Mike S
    May 8, 2014 at 3:58

Your friend the psychologist's way of relating to you is patronizing. You could say, "Don't patronize me." Also, for a psychologist to continually try to elicit a personal disclosure that way is intrusive and unethical.

pa·tron·ize ˈpātrəˌnīz,ˈpa-/Submit verb 1. treat with an apparent kindness that betrays a feeling of superiority. "“She's a good-hearted girl,” he said in a patronizing voice" synonyms: treat condescendingly, condescend to, look down on, talk down to, put down, treat like a child, treat with disdain "don't patronize me!" condescending, disdainful, supercilious, superior, imperious, scornful, contemptuous; informaluppity, high and mighty "your patronizing mother just told me how "adequate" my dress is." Google.com


Your 'friend' sounds passive-aggressive, condescending and demeaning; from your description, I think manipulative sums up her behaviour quite well. (Personally, I try to keep people like that as far away from me as I can.)


I like Erik's answer and want to add that what your friend is using to manipulate the conversation to her liking are non-sequiturs. Remind her of this and you too can sound condescending and passive/aggressive.

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