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It seems argument has a negative connotation, almost like bickering. What about argumentative?

How to favorably describe a person who doesn't take things at face value but rather debate on veracity while not being an annoying pedant and such?

Is skeptical the right word?

More info on context:

I am looking for a word to use in informal sense in everyday language, may be like in a resume or talking about myself when there is no much room for an explanation of the word I use, while not coming across as snobbish. I did think of critical thinker but somehow that sounds too posh and over selling. May be a tangential question could be whether or not it is snobbish.

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    argument may be positive or negative (it's good to offer a good argument for your point of view), but argumentative is always a personality flaw in that it describes a bickering manner. – Jeffrey Kemp Nov 19 '14 at 12:37
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    @JeffreyKemp Not always, though, at least not in formal academic writing. – Kris Nov 19 '14 at 13:53
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    thePet, No, argument has a no negative connotation per se -- if that were so, no sensible exchange of views would ever have been possible. It is necessary to say this because the question is based on this incorrect premise. – Kris Nov 19 '14 at 13:56
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    We commonly hear (or say) things like "Let's not argue" or "I don't want an argument" or "My arguments with Joan are really straining our relationship." In these cases, "argument" clearly isn't about the "sensible exchange of views." The argument that if "argument" has a negative connotation then no sensible exchange of views would ever have been possible is untenable. Call me skeptical, or disputatious, or whatever you like. I prefer to think of it as "logically rigorous." I understand the more formal definition of "argument," but we must admit its common usage as well. – Rusty Tuba Nov 19 '14 at 14:07
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    @thePetProjectProgrammer - Critical thinking is currently a "battleground phrase":austinchronicle.com/daily/news/2012-06-27/… However, that does not mean it isn't the best choice for your use. All the possibilities suffer some negative connotation or other, so you'd best make your choice based on the intended audience. – Wayfaring Stranger Nov 19 '14 at 16:25
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What about using your idiom, not taking facts at face value? That connotes a thoughtful, intelligent person who will debate the facts if they warrant it.

  • I am really looking for one word (or two) but I'll have to accept your suggestion if I don't find that word. Seems good enough. – vin Nov 19 '14 at 15:56
  • another option might be a good debater, although that would place emphasis on your skills in debating, rather than the fact that you will debate. Debate is definitely a nicer word than argue though... – Gitty Nov 19 '14 at 16:01
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Sadly though, the primary definition of (at least the adjective form) argumentative (ODO),

1 Given to arguing:
    an argumentative child

and worse still,

This is not the same as being argumentative, or arguing just for the sake of arguing.
Towards the end of my little encounter with Sophie Ward we argue about whether or not she is argumentative.

is clearly negative sounding, the last two examples suggesting argumentative = 'arguing just for the sake of arguing.'

That said, there's also the secondary definition,

2 Using or characterized by systematic reasoning:
the highest standards of argumentative rigour.
The paper then directed all of year 10 to select one question, answer it and discuss the reasons for their answer in an argumentative 1 essay.
If we have spent several class periods introducing conventions of reasoned evidence in argumentative 2 writing, we usually look for such features in student papers.

Therefore, it is context and careful structuring of the sentence that will determine if the author intends to convey a negative connotation. Devoid of a clear contextual support, the connotation is naturally seen as negative, because of its primary definition and because of its relatively more frequent use in a negative sense.

Do use argumentative, with a clear context in support of a neutral connotation (Examples marked 1, 2 above may help).

  • We don't even have to discuss connotation. Some sources are more explicit: (from M-W) : tending to argue : having or showing a tendency to disagree or argue with other people in an angry way – Rusty Tuba Nov 19 '14 at 14:38
  • I updated my question with info on context. Could you help me pick a word? – vin Nov 19 '14 at 15:37
  • @Kris The second definition describes the rules of argument as argumentative rules, which is a different meaning altogether from an argumentative person. I think saying a person is argumentative is always negative. 'Playing Devil's Advocate' is the only positive alternative I can think of at the moment. – IchabodE Nov 25 '14 at 0:31
  • @MBurke Why do you "think" rather than show? That would help better. – Kris Nov 25 '14 at 5:56
  • @Kris Because showing a negative is impossible. I could spend the whole day giving you examples, but it only takes a single example of someone being praised for being argumentative to prove me wrong. I can't think of one. But in that spirit, instead of saying, "I think", I change my wording to "I assert". Now the onus is on anyone who believes it can be positive to come up with an example. – IchabodE Nov 25 '14 at 18:21
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Many years ago while working as a supervisor in a fund-raising effort on behalf of a symphony orchestra, I supervised a difficult employee who misunderstood me when I used the word argument. He automatically thought I was accusing him of being argumentative, when in fact I was using the term to describe a line of reasoning he was using. His failure to understand me took me by surprise, and my inadequate ad hoc explanation of how I was using the term resulted in my failure to communicate.

There is no doubt that argument can have both a negative denotation and connotation, as in the following uses of the word:

An argument broke out over whose turn it was to pay for lunch.

Or,

Why must you turn every discussion into an argument?

Clearly, the word as used above denotes and connotes a bit of unpleasantness, complete with bickering, yelling, accusations flying back and forth, and more.

On the other hand, the word can have a neutral denotation and connotation, as in the following uses of the word:

The debater's argument was well crafted and supported with logic, persuasive statistics, and a memorable closing sentence.

Or,

Jim's argument concerning what caused the accident failed to persuade the jurors of the defendant's guilt.

Clearly, the word as used above denotes and connotes a line of reasoning which depends more on a thought process than a verbal free-for-all.

Now the word debate can also denote and connote something positive or negative, depending on how it is used. Which of the following uses of debate is primarily positive, and which is negative?

The university's representative in the competition was clearly well trained in the art of debate.

[A mother to her young son] Why must everything I ask you to do turn into a debate?

If you think the first use is positive and the second is negative, I'd agree with you. The former use brings to mind a reasoned, rational, even impassioned argument in the context of the give and take of verbal sparring. The latter brings to mind a stubborn child who finds it difficult simply to do as he is told, without complaining, whining, resisting, and finagling his way out of obeying his mother.

As for a synonymous substitute, I suggest the following, the first group of which lean more towards a negative connotation, while the second group leans more toward a positive connotation:

NEGATIVE

  • distrustful

  • cynical

  • calculating

  • contrary

  • irresolute (the product of a failure to come to a conclusion--the "on the one hand, but on the other hand" kind of thinking which is never truly resolved in one's mind, one way or the other)

  • indecisive

  • opinionated

  • rationalization

  • clustering (amassing proofs in one's mind as to why a decision is--or was--a good one)

POSITIVE

  • skeptical (your suggestion)

  • questioning

  • reasoned

  • sensible

  • balanced and fair minded

  • balanced

  • reflective (tending automatically to reason things out in one's mind before acting)

  • to weigh in one's mind

  • rumination (mentally "chewing the cud")

  • incredulity (n.); incredulous (adj.)

In conclusion, to argue one's point of view could involve some negative and unpleasant interactions, but not necessarily. Similarly, a debate could be characterized by a complete lack of regard for the "rules of the game," rife with snipes, ad hominems, unfounded accusations, and made-up facts. On the other hand, a debate could be reasoned, rational, respectful, and fair; in short, it could take the high road, so to speak, and not the low road of insults, invective, and impromptu inveighing against an "opponent."

  • Its kinda funny that there are so many close variants yet none is completely positive. May be time to import a word? – vin Nov 19 '14 at 18:27
  • @thePetProjectProgrammer on the contrary there are quite a few with positive connotations. Perhaps rhetorician could list only the more positive ones. – Mari-Lou A Nov 21 '14 at 11:07
  • @Mari-LouA: Your wish is my command. Don – rhetorician Nov 21 '14 at 12:03
  • I appreciate your efforts but I can't see using any of these in describing a person the way I intend to in a way that would immediately convey my intentions, except may be skeptical which is mine lol. Thanks again. – vin Nov 24 '14 at 13:20
  • thePetProjectProgrammer: That's OK. Then how about incredulity? He was characterized as a man of natural incredulity. Adjectival form: incredulous. I'll add it to my list, above. Don – rhetorician Nov 24 '14 at 18:59

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