Sorry for the poor title, but I can describe this better through an example. A few weeks ago, one of my friends had a conversation with her boyfriend, and she said that she wouldn't necessarily marry him because he's "not smart enough". The intention and feeling behind this statement is certainly not that he's stupid. But when articulated, this sounds really mean despite the more moderate intent.

I'm looking for a word that describes this phenomenon: where a thought may really has a rather mild intent/emotion behind it while its in your head, but when articulated, the listeners tend to dramatize the statement and the emotion/intent comes across much stronger.

Another example was a friend was trying to describe his new housemates who are from the East Coast and attend Ivy League schools. They're perfectly wonderful and pleasant people, but they're more willing to spend money on luxuries and fun experiences, and love to just constantly do interesting/crazy things. I feel that when you articulate this, you give off the air that they just ball out of control, when the reality is much more subdued. I'm trying to describe this idea -- that when you express something the emotion and imagery conjured unintentionally exaggerates reality.

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    Are you sure you've thought this one through? Surely the blunt truth of the matter is your friend really did consider the boyfriend's lack of brainpower to be reason enough not to marry him. Probably if he'd had enough brains to realise this in the first place, she wouldn't have had to spell it out to him (but then she might have married him anyway, so that's two reasons it wouldn't be necessary! :). What I mean is it's not that the original intention was ever "mild" anyway. It was always the plain unvarnished bitter truth, articulated or not. Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 21:39
  • Would the word you are looking for be tactless? It sounds to me as though it was an utterly tactless remark.
    – WS2
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 21:44
  • I like tactless, but after some contemplation I kind of @FumbleFingers said...there might just be no 'nice' way to say it. I had originally thought that this was a curious phenomenon; I'll edit in another example that gets at what I'm trying to say but it might just be that simple.
    – jjwon
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 22:08
  • @jjwon Indeed there is no 'nice way' to say it.
    – WS2
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 22:12
  • The problem I see when we give voice to something that was better left unsaid, is that there's no turning back. My own rule is that after I have wordsmithed a concern six times and still can't get the phrasing right, then maybe there's no right way to say 'it' - cause 'it' is stupid. For example, try on an effective rephrase for "Double my salary. Please." Commented Mar 27, 2020 at 21:32

5 Answers 5


As the commenters on the question note, your examples seem just to show people saying harsh things-- perhaps they misspoke, or regretted their words as soon as they spoke them, but language is founded on the assumption that we mean what we say and say what we mean.

There are cases where what one fails to say can cast an otherwise innocuous statement in a negative light. If I ask "did I seem like a stammering cretin in that meeting?" and you reply "I didn't notice you stammering", that implies you did think I was a cretin, even though you didn't say that and may not have meant it. This is usually referred to as "damning with faint praise".


The category of situations you describe actually happens frequently. It usually makes the speaker sound disingenuous even though the speaker's attitude was not in a state of disingenuity.

For example, on visiting the home of her new acquaintance, she was silently appalled at its condition. She could not see how her new acquaintance could host a holiday at her home. In genuine kindness and sympathy, she then offered the family of her new acquaintance her own posh home so that they could have a comfortable Passover dinner. On hearing this, her new acquaintance was aghast and offended, as though their home was not fit for celebrating Passover.

On another example, of a politician assuring his constituents why he thought reasonable and logical to oppose abortion. He would praise the wonderful miracle and beauty that is a woman's body and then goes on to assert that the woman's body is so capable that it would shut down the womb in the case "legitimate" rape.

There have been a bank of terms used to describe such situations:

  • untactful, tactless
  • good intentions backfired
  • good intentions misfired
  • maladroit
  • awfully awkward delivery
  • misguided
  • insensitive
  • fucked-up situation
  • fubar (fucked-up beyond all recognition/repair)
  • screwed himself/herself
  • snafu (situation normal all fucked up)

For certain, we know that such a person is maladroit (adjective). We could coin a new word maladroid as the noun for such a person.

One could see that there subclasses of such situations:

  • Maladroit person does not realise her intentions are bad, and goes on to propose her intentions with utmost humility and kindness. Which obviously would backfire at her face.

    For this subcategory, we would say that the person is misguided. We would say
    a misguided idea backfired.
    OTOH, the maladroit would claim that his naively misguided idea, which backfired had been blown out of proportion.

  • Maladroit person realises her intentions are good and praiseworthy. If a panel of jury were to analyse the post-mortem, they too would agree that her concept was "100%" acceptable. The problem was her delivery style when stating her proposal, that makes everyone else look bad and herself look exceptional.

    We would say that it was an insensitive and tactless delivery of a good idea had misfired.

I think the most appropriate word which has become acceptable use is snafu. It's about screwing up a normal and harmless situation.


Blunder - (v) to act or speak clumsily.

It has the added benefit of also meaning "a stupid or careless mistake".

However a person who is oblivious to the harm their "truths" inflict is tactless. Then only problem with the word "tactless" is that it tends to apply more to the speaker than the statement (and is seen as judgmental against the speaker).


I know of two words that may fit your query:

Transmogrify /v/

To change in a magical or grotesque way.

Or secondly

Vulgarize /v/

To make less refined or subtle.

Hope this helps.

  • Adding the source of your definitions would improve this answer. Commented Mar 27, 2020 at 21:32

I think what you are looking for is a word that will describe that she didn't mean for it to come out sounding so harsh, but the words she chose accidentally did.

I'm not sure about that one, but a Dysphemism is when you intentionally use a word that is much more exaggerated than the situation calls for.

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