I am writing to director operations of my company and want to state his secretary’s argument did not have a lot of weight. It, to us (a team of auditors), was insignificant. I am looking for an adjective/noun that does not say loudly that the argument was thin (and yet indicates that it was weak)

Thin, insignificant, unimportant, weak - are the words that came to my mind but I will not call them "a good find".

A thin argument ?, a weak argument ?, a _________ argument? ??

  • 7
    maybe you could say that it was not a very compelling argument
    – Jim
    Jun 17, 2015 at 17:42
  • 12
    An unconvincing argument.
    – user66974
    Jun 17, 2015 at 17:43
  • 4
    Flimsy? I like that word. :D
    – Catija
    Jun 17, 2015 at 18:21
  • 1
    Try 'lightweight'.
    – Erik Kowal
    Jun 17, 2015 at 18:33
  • 1
    @AndyT But unconvincing seems to top them both (at least since 1920).
    – Papa Poule
    Jun 18, 2015 at 16:25

15 Answers 15


Your demand for a "not so loud word" makes me think of - tenuous.

If something is tenuous it's thin, either literally or metaphorically. Tenuous comes from the Latin word tenuis, for thin, and is related to our word tender. (vocabulary.com)

Usage examples.....

  • That's the word for me.
    – user98990
    Jun 17, 2015 at 19:42

Insubstantial (MW), inadequate, implausible, dissuasive, impotent. I suppose it depends on how polite you are trying to be. Hope this helps.

insubstantial Merriam Webster

: not large or important

: not strong or solid

: not real : not made of a real substance

  • 4
    Welcome to the site, and thanks for your contribution. The site gets bogged down if answers are not supported by references. So I've started to edit your post to conform, OK?. If you want to make your own edits click edit and use the link icon and formatting.
    – Hugh
    Jun 17, 2015 at 18:16
  • 3
    Oops, sorry. Will cite correctly in future. Thanks for the heads up.
    – icklemiss
    Jun 17, 2015 at 21:20

A tangential argument

(formal) having only a slight or indirect connection with something

Oxford Learner's Dictionaries

Also, sometimes one can clearly express polite incredulity, and get away with it, by using the word interesting.

  • I think this is not correct. A weak argument is problematic per se, a tangential argument is problematic only in the context of the particular claim, because it's indirectly connected to that claim.
    – MSalters
    Jun 19, 2015 at 12:13
  • 1
    i disagree with @MSalters. the strength of this answer is that it could technically be argued to not be an insult, and yet the implication is still there. it fits the "subtle" criteria. Jun 19, 2015 at 14:21

This may be less likely to cause offense, since it doesn't address the quality of the argument as much as it says what was in the argument wasn't enough.


not having or providing enough of what is needed

  • +1 Especially in the context of an audit, where there is usually a clear standard of measure. Jun 18, 2015 at 19:28
  • I'd be somewhat concerned this might invite further justifications. But maybe that's what's needed.
    – Stonetip
    Jun 18, 2015 at 21:38

untenable (adj.):

(especially of a position or view) not able to be maintained or defended against attack or objection

'This argument is clearly untenable.'


As auditors, you should be able to use this term without causing offence on a personal level. It gives you an opportunity to raise points of concern and to consider possible solutions.


A person's capacity to reason well is amongst their most important virtues, so if you use anything that definitely means her arguments are worthless or unimportant, it may come off as insulting. More importantly, just because an argument is poor or weak, does not mean its invalid or inconsiderable. "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." Sherlock Holmes often insisted upon getting every possible detail from his clients, so he could make the most possible accurate inferences.

I would therefore suggest tactfully applying a word that gives no more and no less than the heed due to the degree of reasoning given. I think a good word for this is "Questionable". Noah Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines "Questionable" as:

  1. That may be questioned; doubtful; uncertain; disputable. the deed is of questionable authority.
  2. Suspicious; liable to be doubted or disputed; liable to suspicion. His veracity is questionable.

I believe you mean more-so the latter definition than the former but the fact that it can be interpreted either way helps to mellow its mood. Part of the idea idea is that you're not completely dismissing the claims but instead, suggesting further inquiry is advisable before it may be seriously trusted. This reflects better upon you, as well as the firm you represent if the argument turns out to be somehow relevant, than a word that simply claims insignificance. I also think that makes it a well suited word for auditors, who professionally verify the questions of doubt made by their clientele.

In cases like this, I think it's important to know the exact feeling the word conveys, so here are some modern usage examples:

"That was a questionable argument during The Cold War; it's an unsupportable one now." Keeping Secrets at a Price too High ~ A New York Times Op. Article by Thomas S. Blaton

Hachette CEO Arnaud Nourry Raises Questionable Arguments Against Subscription eBooks ~ Ink, Bits 'n Pixels Blog

A questionable argument for paternalistic legislation ~ Bleeding Heart Libertarians Blog


I like words which use a negation of a positive term for this, because they acknowledge that the argument was trying to be whichever adjective you're negating.

So, unconvincing, immaterial, insufficient, unpersuasive, inconclusive. You're saying it falls short, not that it was terrible. (falls short itself is a good phrase, but you wanted a single word.)

+1 to tangential, though.


"Bob's argument was interesting"

You can convey your meaning by employing an insincere epithet such as interesting and then make no further reference whatsoever to Bob's argument. This achieves the effect of both acknowledging and then dismissing Bob's contribution.

Take care not to overdo this, however - see http://www.buzzfeed.com/lukebailey/really-useful-list#.fswJwXxpQz for egregious examples of the use of sarcasm in this way.

  • 1
    Egregious- 1 outstandingly bad; shocking: egregious abuses of copyright. 2 archaic remarkably good. Wow, was that a parallel to "insincere epithet" intentional? If so, impressive!
    – Dave Liu
    Jun 18, 2015 at 21:36
  • @DaveL to be honest I just like the word egregious... ;-) Jun 22, 2015 at 9:42

There are a few ways in which an argument can be weak.

It could be weak on its own merits (e.g. the facts are not substantial, or the logic is not entirely sound). In this case, the words tenuous, insubstantial, shaky, flimsy and others suggested here may be variously appropriate.

However, in business situations the central issue is often the relative importance of an argument, rather than the correctness of the argument.

  • For example, the secretary's argument may be reasonable on its own ground, but there may be far more important or compelling arguments against his point of view.
  • This is a common situation in audits, because there are usually correct arguments on both sides of an issue, so it's not so much a question of whether the arguments are incorrect, but rather whether one argument is more important than another (e.g. risk of fraud or default is more important than risk of missing an earnings estimate).

In such situations where you want to point out that one argument is weaker than, less important than, or secondary to another, you can use the term marginal:

The secretary's argument is marginal.


The secretary's argument is marginal compared to case we are making to write off this business expense in the audit.


Seem to be lots of good options already listed. Was surprised that specious had not already been suggested.

  • Welcome to ELU :-). This is a good suggestion, but to make it a good answer, which would be more helpful to the OP and future users of the website, you would need to give a definition and/or examples of usage with references. Thanks!
    – Lucky
    Jun 18, 2015 at 23:52
  • It's more negative than asked for, even if it may be a fitting description.
    – stevesliva
    Jun 19, 2015 at 4:30

My case is for :

Inconclusive: (adjective)

not leading to a firm conclusion or result; not ending doubt or dispute.

In this case:

An inconclusive argument.

  • 1
    Inconclusive is inconclusie, not thin/weak - in context of what the OP asks for. Jun 17, 2015 at 20:50
  • 2
    -1 inconclusive suggests that the arguement doesn't have a conclusion. For example 'The bible says that homosexuality is wrong, and the bible is correct, therefore gay marriage should be outlawed' is a weak arguement, but not an inconclusive one.
    – dwjohnston
    Jun 18, 2015 at 5:24
  • I echo @weakphoneme's thought. downvote not my idea. Jun 19, 2015 at 18:57

The best precise and short answer I can think of is not cogent. This has the benefit of being unemotional. It is very precise and places the fault on the argument, not the secretary (a problem that thin, for some reason, has). As a rare-ish word, cogent has a rather pure register, which makes it difficult for the reader to project any subjective feelings onto. Cogo in Latin means I gather/drive/compel.



It was a meretricious argument.

oxforddictionaries.com: apparently attractive but having in reality no value or integrity.

  • 2
    This gives the wrong nuance. It's actually quite a strong condemnation, not at all subtle.
    – Robusto
    Jun 17, 2015 at 18:12
  • 3
    Not to mention being a word that anyone on the receiving end would likely have to look up in a dictionary to understand.
    – Catija
    Jun 17, 2015 at 18:20
  • 1
    I agree. On reflection, my answer was meretricious.
    – Zan700
    Jun 17, 2015 at 22:21
  • 1
    Meretrix in Latin is a whore. Meretricious is, etymologically at least, whorelike (i.e. covered in makeup and cheap jewelry).
    – Wapiti
    Jun 17, 2015 at 23:53
  • 1
    Wapiti, that's a very meretricious analogy. Jun 18, 2015 at 9:13

I would vote for "specious."

**Specious - Merriam-Webster:** 
falsely appearing to be fair, just, or right : 
appearing to be true but actually false
  • This suffers from the same problem as the answer suggesting meretricious - it is actually a strong condemnation and not a subtle word at all.
    – AndyT
    Jun 19, 2015 at 8:38
  • Yes, it is a fairly strong condemnation. However, the described situation of the OP, while he is asking for a mild word, really calls for a stronger one. If the person is truly giving such bad suggestions, it should be made clear and not seek to use light candy coated terms as you then don't show the reality. Which, it certainly appears to me that if the advice was actually "insignificant" (which the use of that, coupled with the OP's inquiry would indicate that he is already downplaying even in his asking) given the person's position, the director should be enlightened as to her incompetence.
    – Mce128
    Jun 23, 2015 at 3:39


barely sufficient or adequate.

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