Is there a word or phrase that means to plant my idea in someone else’s mind so they think it is their own idea?

Just like what happened in the movie Inception.

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    – choster
    Jul 23, 2014 at 18:57
  • 11
    Inception has become a word for it! Jul 24, 2014 at 5:10
  • 1
    See indoctrinate syn. convince, condition, program
    – Kris
    Jul 24, 2014 at 5:41
  • On 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy says he never goes to sleep on a plane because he doesn’t want to get “incepted.” [clip] Jul 29, 2014 at 19:49
  • You could also refer to this as performing a Jedi mind trick. Jul 29, 2014 at 20:11

10 Answers 10


Consider the term insinuate. According to Collins English Dictionary it means

  1. (may take a clause as object) to suggest by indirect allusion, hints, innuendo, etc
  2. (transitive) to introduce subtly or deviously
  3. (transitive) to cause (someone, esp oneself) to be accepted by gradual approaches or manoeuvres

All three definitions suggest the type of seduction you allude to.

  • Is this any different than intimate, or would it convey a functionally equivalent meaning?
    – chiliNUT
    Jul 24, 2014 at 5:13
  • 9
    -1 Check the definition and usage.
    – Kris
    Jul 24, 2014 at 5:38
  • @Kris: What is wrong with the usage?
    – Watto
    Jul 24, 2014 at 15:16
  • 6
    It's the OP's choice, of course, to pick the answer that best suits them, but insinuation does not leave the recipient to believe the thought or idea is their own. Jul 24, 2014 at 17:21
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    @bib Don’t let the downvotes get you down: remember that while those who know more than you will correct you when you are wrong, those who know less will correct you when you are right. But consider the relative proportion of these two groups and you will quickly understand that it is of no importance whatsoever.
    – tchrist
    Jul 24, 2014 at 18:49

Brainwashing is a common expression for getting someone to think or believe something that was artificially inserted in their mind through a variety of techniques.

  • 1
    +1 for being the only person to find an answer deriving from Old English instead of from Latin.
    – tchrist
    Jul 24, 2014 at 16:56

To inculcate may be used in the context described:

  1. To impress (something) upon the mind of another by frequent instruction or repetition; instill: inculcating sound principles.
  2. To teach (others) by frequent instruction or repetition; indoctrinate: inculcate the young with a sense of duty.

Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language

  • Amusingly ironic choice for sticking something in someone’s head, considering how some Victorians would avoid inculcate because of its (mis)perceived overtones involving sticking something in the other end altogether.
    – tchrist
    Jul 24, 2014 at 17:27
  • @tchrist - I see your point..and I was s surprised when I compared 'inculcate' with 'brainwashing' on Ngram. Inculcate is still more popular according yo that source. :) – Josh61 35 mins ago
    – user66974
    Jul 24, 2014 at 19:41
  • 1
    Does it have the same level of subtlety or complexity in the way the idea is introduced into someone's head, or does this feel a little bit too mechanical? Jul 24, 2014 at 23:57

You can "seed the idea" into someone's head, this is found in print e.g. in this novel. This would match your request that the people then think it their own idea, as who knows where the seed of a plant came from?


To expand on Scott's answer, the word suggest is the word you want for this. Its Latin roots are sub- ("from below") and -gerere ("to bring") and its literal definition is to evoke or bring to mind indirectly.

Prescriptively it has come into use as a term of direct entreatment ("I suggest we go to the store.") but its original roots are in subterfuge and insinuation ("What are you suggesting?")

  • I appreciate the acknowledgement, but – really? If you suggest that we go to the store, I’m not going to think it was my idea, unless I’m in an altered state of consciousness, e.g., hypnotized or drunk. Jul 24, 2014 at 18:16
  • As my second paragraph notes, that is how people use "suggest", but that's not its original intent - it was more like, "His concerned look suggested all was not well with his job." That is, there's an element of interpretation or insinuation required to get to the thought.
    – Kyle Hale
    Jul 24, 2014 at 19:37
  • It's more "suggestion" than "suggest" in this context: A psychological process by which an idea is induced in or adopted by another without argument, command, or coercion. thefreedictionary.com/suggestion but it is indeed the "word" covering the concept even if common use of "suggest" and "suggestion" makes it mean something less "underhanded" to people. Jul 25, 2014 at 9:14

Perhaps Subliminal is the Word You Seek

This word gets to the heart of your request in all areas, as it covers the idea of stimulus (your "implanting") to one's thought (your "mind" requirement), but at a level that is undetected by the recipient (so they "think it is their own"). A psychological term, one definition of subliminal is:

existing or operating below the threshold of consciousness; being or employing stimuli insufficiently intense to produce a discrete sensation but often being or designed to be intense enough to influence the mental processes or the behavior of the individual (dictionary.reference.com)

Use in a Phrase, like Subliminal Implantation

Subliminal is an adjective that has no clear verb to relate it to, so as a "single-word-request" for a verb it does not work. Normally this adjective describes the effects of the particular type of communication used, so subliminal teaching, subliminal advertising, or subliminal message, etc. The closest single verb form I found was sublimate, which has a related, but slightly different idea behind it from a psychological perspective:

to divert the energy of (a sexual or other biological impulse) from its immediate goal to one of a more acceptable social, moral, or aesthetic nature or use. (dictionary.reference.com)

The idea of changing one's mind is there (to something "more acceptable" to the one doing the diverting), but it loses the subconscious idea. Combining the two, subliminally sublimate might work, but sounds very awkward. Better to stick with subliminal suggestion or other idea of expressing the communication (as noted above), or in your case perhaps subliminal implantation.

Possible Single Word Option

If you are writing such a work that you are able to define your own word, then you could add an ‑ate suffix and form a new word subliminate as a verb. However, you would need to find a way of describing what you mean by this new word within your text, so that people understand it is a verb formed from the idea of the adjective subliminal. Only your particular usage context could answer whether this option is open or not.


This could be done through hypnosis, resulting in a post-hypnotic suggestion.

  • "I hypnotized" sounds acceptable.
    – Apprentice
    Jul 24, 2014 at 2:59

Inception is of course not the correct word as it means “the establishment or starting point of an institution or activity”, in this case the act or verb.

One could but should not in formal situations coin a term as to inceptionize, but that would just be for funzies.

On a side note, I did come across this from The Science of Creating Dreams:

Giving people dreams, however, is possible. We can create a form of dream and idea inception even without the cool devices used in the movie. In the movie, they paid homage to one method for successfully implanting ideas and dreams. When asked about giving people ideas, one of the characters noted that it is easy - just tell them to not think about something, like don't think about an elephant. Telling people to not think about something is what Daniel Wegner and his colleagues have been doing for years. In their classic work, they told people to not think about a white bear. Wegner has found that when people try to suppress a thought, they end up thinking about it more afterwards. Wegner refers to this as a rebound, or white bear, effect. The thought of a white bear rebounds after you try to suppress it.


Looking at the answers so far, I would say that the best phrase is already in your question, using the verb plant

Establish (an idea) in someone’s mind:

  • "The seed of doubt is planted in his mind."
  • "I could accidentally plant suggestions in your mind, or take you someplace dangerous."

You know, I really think convince would fit the bill here. It carries far less negative connotations than some other people's suggestions.

  • 2
    How does that fit with the person thinking the idea is their own? Usually convince involves an argument from another person being accepted, and thus the idea itself is not one's own.
    – ScottS
    Jul 24, 2014 at 16:26

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