For example, person A says something not directed towards anyone in particular, but it was a criticism nonetheless, and it was intentionally meant to indirectly tell off some people.

Person B takes offense for whatever person A said, thinking that it was meant for him specifically; even when it was supposed to be for a group of people (which he may or may not be part of).

What has person B done, or what do you call the act of already claiming that you're guilty, even when the criticism wasn't for you alone?

I think I've come across an idiom for this sometime ago, but I can't remember what it was, nor where I found it.

  • 2
    You know, I really do feel like I've heard a word for a combination of being hypersensitive and self-centered at the same time, but I can't think of it. In the absence of one satisfactory term, you could always say "egotistically hypersensitive", or some such unwieldy phrase.
    – recognizer
    May 13, 2015 at 16:50

5 Answers 5


In this situation I say to the offendee, "If the hat fits, wear it". Related when people think you're getting at them when in fact you aren't (slightly different from your scenario), the Biblical line, "The wicked flee when no man pursueth".

  • This may be close to what I was looking for, I think! If no one comes up with another answer in a few days, I'll accept yours :) Thanks! May 13, 2015 at 3:32
  • I've always heard it as "If the shoe fits, wear it". Maybe this is regional, or an AmE vs. BrE thing? May 13, 2015 at 8:49
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    But this answer does not address your question; rather, it says what person A might sarcastically say to person B. The other answer "take it personally" applies to what person B does, as you asked. May 13, 2015 at 8:53
  • @Brian. Could be. As a Rightpondian, for me there is only the hat. For the context of responding to a barb not actually meant for him. The shoe I would use in other contexts.
    – David Pugh
    May 13, 2015 at 15:48

He is taking it personally.

to think that someone is offending you when they are not:

These criticisms should not be taken personally (= they are not meant to criticize any one person in particular).


  • Thank you for your answer! I was looking for something like this, yes, but the fact is, person A also /probably/ wanted to attack person B. Only, not him alone. Like, person B got hit by the rocks person A threw in no particular direction (but intended to hit people anyway)...? Does that make sense? May 13, 2015 at 3:32
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    @potatoesandnoodles: It still covers. You can say "Don't take it personally" in a sarcastic tone also.
    – ermanen
    May 13, 2015 at 16:49

So if you define a situation as "person B got hit by the rocks person A threw in no particular direction (but intended to hit people anyway)". In this case use friendly fire.

Also the related term is blue-on-blue.


Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate (2003) dictionary offers this as one of its definitions of umbrage:

a feeling of pique or resentment at some often fancied slight or insult

and this as one of its definitions of empathy:

the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or the present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

So you might call the mental state in which a person feels offended by criticism not intended for him or her as "empathetic umbrage."


Not a standard phrase, but I've sometimes referred to this as "borrowing offense" by analogy with "taking offense".

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