I know what this word really means but I cannot help to think that ignorant also means he ignores his surrounding or the consequences of his actions. "He was ignorant, unwilling to warn the police about what has been happening next door for years” for example. Can anyone tell me the word I am looking for? Or is it too broad to find a suitable adjective?

17 Answers 17


I don't know about a single word, but what you're describing sounds like willful ignorance or willful blindness, described by Wiktionary as

A decision in bad faith to avoid becoming informed about something so as to avoid having to make undesirable decisions that such information might prompt

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  • Rational Wiki has a good article. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 4 '15 at 11:25
  • While it seems an established term in Law, the modifier willful does not seem justified in general English usage: people have a tendency to turn a blind eye to what is not strictly in conformity with their beliefs. See also: "Willful ignorance is the state and practice of ignoring any sensory input that appears to contradict one’s inner model of reality. At heart, it is almost certainly driven by confirmation bias." at RationalWiki rationalwiki.org/wiki/Willful_ignorance – Kris Apr 4 '15 at 11:28
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    "Willful ignorance" is a phrase I hear commonly to mean exactly this, but I've never heard "willful blindness." – KRyan Apr 4 '15 at 14:44
  • "Feign oblivion" could also be used in this case. – serendipity May 30 '17 at 6:53

An expression of the ostrich effect is bury one's head in the sand, hide one's head in the sand; have one's head in the sand:

Fig. to ignore or hide from obvious signs of danger.


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In this particular case the phrase in denial seems appropriate:

in a state of refusing to believe something that is true.

Mary was in denial about her illness and refused treatment.

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You could say he's got a three wise monkeys attitude (speak, see, hear no evil)...

enter image description here

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To ignore can conveys the concept of being deliberatly ignorant or choosing to ignore.

  • To refuse to pay attention to; disregard.

  • to refrain from noticing or recognizing: to ignore insulting remarks.

  • he simply ignored what had been happening next door for years.


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Obstinate - perversely adhering to an opinion, purpose, or course in spite of reason, arguments, or persuasion .

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This is a cognitive bias

tendencies to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from a standard of rationality or good judgment, and are often studied in psychology and behavioral economics.

When a person "deliberately" ignores negative information it is called an optimism bias or the ostrich effect.

When a person "deliberately" ignores positive information it is called pessimism bias.

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The term to use in my opinion depends upon the reason for adopting an attitude of willful-neglect.

If the person is turning a blind eye out of fear or weakness, a good term might be cowardous, if the person is simply doesn't want to get involved because it would be too much trouble, a good term might be selfish, if the person doesn't want their world-view altered by truly considering reality, an appropriate term would be denial or dellusional, if the person is simply de-prioritizing or self-justifying the the effects of their behavior / actions on others, I would suggest something like irresponsible, psychopathic or sociopathic, perhaps qualified to indicate the depths of their attitude (e.g. mildly psychopathic), if the person is simply unable to assess the impact of the current situation, a term such as socially impared or even stupid might be appropriate.

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A particularly British term for this would be “Looked the other way”.


Look the other way - Deliberately ignore wrongdoing by others. (Source: Google)

In a Sentence:

“He looked the other way for years, blissfully ignorant of the illicit goings on next door.”

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  • I don't think that's particularly British ... Americans use it, too. – Peter Shor Jan 6 '16 at 20:08
  • @Peter it sounds to me like it would've originated from cockneys but that's purely a gut feeling with no evidence to back it. I have no way of verifying whether it's common in America though. – Dom Feb 19 '16 at 12:24

Ignorant is used or taken offensively, but I personally feel it means that they do not know something (Unaware) and I would never use that word as a replacement for 'uneducated'. Like blissful ignorance: He was blissfully ignorant that a gang of thieves were waiting around the corner.

Anyway, with that in mind, the word I think you might be looking for is "Disingenuous" which means to pretend you don't know something... probably in an attempt to gain an advantage.

e.g. The disingenuous politician hid important facts from the voters.

or maybe like so "No, errm, I have no idea. You'd be better off asking someone else", he said disingenuously as he dashed towards the beautiful yet clueless blonde customer at the end of the aisle.

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Editor & Publisher - Volume 118, Part 1 - Page 45 1985

No doubt this blinder-wearer also sees a distinction between the images displayed on his television screen.

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  • Does a blind-wearer do so deliberately? – Andy Semyonov Apr 4 '15 at 14:25
  • 'Might' may not do for OP. :) – Andy Semyonov Apr 4 '15 at 14:30
  • He needs to know how to use it and couch it. This is just a suggestion. – Marius Hancu Apr 4 '15 at 14:33


having or showing little or no emotion; indifferent

Also, negligent, perhaps?

habitually neglecting duties, responsibilities, etc; lacking attention, care, or concern; neglectful

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Obdurate - stubbornly refusing to change one's opinion or course of action.

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  • This doesn't have the necessary 'turn a blind eye to' meaning OP asks for. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 4 '15 at 21:22
  • Welcome to ELU, Mike! Please, provide an authoritative link for definitions and other references: obdurate ODO. One man's opinion, does not a definition make. – ScotM Apr 4 '15 at 22:23

"She deliberately ignored the stench of sweat and urine of the homeless, and treated them as she would any other human beings."

There are many ways of expressing wilful ignorance in a pejorative sense, as you may see in the answers given here, but deliberate ignorance in and of itself is not inherently negative.

You may simply describe actions rather than apply an adjective that is loaded with judgement or even medical diagnosis.

"Mungo feigned ignorance of the fact that his neighbor was the civil-rights activist being sought by the secret police to be tortured and murdered."

Would you say that any of the following apply to Mungo?

tactical stupidity lame Passive-aggressive wilful ignorance wilful blindness bury one's head in the sand in denial three wise monkeys attitude cognitive bias optimism bias ostrich effect obstinate apathetic negligent blinder-wearer wilful neglect cowardice selfish delusional irresponsible psychopathic sociopathic socially impaired obdurate

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One of the definitions for obtuse is "annoyingly insensitive or slow to understand". It is often used in a phrase "deliberately obtuse".

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  1. habitually neglecting duties, responsibilities, etc; lacking attention, care, or concern; neglectful

  2. careless or nonchalant

Synonyms: negligent, derelict, lax, neglectful, remiss, slack These adjectives mean guilty of a lack of due care or concern: The negligent landlord failed to repair the window. By not voting, he was derelict in his civic duty. If you're lax in attending class, your grades will suffer. Many neighbors felt that he had been neglectful of his property. It was remiss of her not to call to tell us she was coming. The teacher was slack in maintaining discipline.

Source (http://www.thefreedictionary.com)

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  • If you quote (let's say from AHDEL), there's a legal (never mind an ELU) requirement to acknowledge the source. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 5 '15 at 15:13
  • @EdwinAshworth Source added – Munkey Apr 5 '15 at 15:51
  • Neglect does not imply deliberately ignorant or choosing to ignore. Neglect is often an unconscious filtering. – Drew Apr 5 '15 at 16:17
  • Neglect can be both deliberate and unconscious. I would argue it would depend on the context of the neglect. It was the closest single word I could think to define the OP. To make the cause of the neglect clear, I guess the ideal answer would be wilfully neglect, as someone else has suggested. But was trying to think of a succint one word answer for post. – Munkey Apr 5 '15 at 16:30

Why not oblivious? It suggests that a person is not paying attention.

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    Another answer that does not address the part of the question that has to do with deliberateness, choosing to ignore. – Drew Apr 6 '15 at 1:41

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