How would you describe someone who intentionally makes vague negative comments and then refuses to explain them?

For the purpose of getting others to ask them about the comment and being able to withhold that information.

For the purpose of making other people want to know what they are thinking.

I'm looking for a word that describes either the person or the behavior.

here is an example of a conversation:

Alice: I shouldn't have told her that story about hitting those cars.

Mary: She probably wasn't listening.

Alice: Well, if the whole story was told she would. She would probably tell you to never talk to me again.

Mary: There's more?

Alice: Yes, what happened was not good.

Mary: Which was?

Alice: Not telling.

Here, Alice is not talking about a crime or something incriminating they are just withholding for the sake of withholding.

  • 5
    Something like a "baiting comment"? Is that what you mean?
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 18:55
  • 2
    @LittleEva That damn Alice! She's always doing that! And that's not all I've heard about her...
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 19:38
  • 1
    @Dan Bron - Really? What's the dish?
    – user98990
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 19:45
  • 2
    @LittleEva Not telling. ;)
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 19:54
  • 1
    @Dan Bron - oh, a profligate talk-tease! ;-)
    – user98990
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 20:00

10 Answers 10


A tease.

  1. a person who likes to play tricks and jokes on other people, especially by telling them something that is not true or by not telling them something that they want to know (Oxford ALD)

Beware of sense 3, though.

  • 2
    right between cryptic and a tease is probably where i am looking
    – Holly
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 19:24
  • 3
    This was my immediate thought but had a difficult time finding a version of the definition that allowed for the non-sexual context.
    – Catija
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 19:25
  • 3
    @Holly: In that case, I suggest the super versatile asshole. Because that's what I'd call him.
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 19:26
  • 1
    @TusharRaj Yeah, I think if I left now I'd get some serious DTs.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 19:37
  • 1
    "vox popluli'd" - provocative verbifi'd compound noun!
    – user98990
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 19:41

Passive-aggressive? fr. MW - being, marked by, or displaying behavior characterized by the expression of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive passive way (as through procrastination and stubbornness)

  • 1
    Argh, I ran out of votes for the day, so I can't +1 this.... so frustrating!
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 19:01
  • 4
    no it isnt passive aggressive because they arent necessarily having negative feelings. they just say "mysterious" things that seem negative
    – Holly
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 19:01
  • @Holly What do you mean by negative? I understand it as a mathematical concept, but am not always sure what people mean when they say someone is negative. It seems to me it could be almost anything. Can you provide an example?
    – WS2
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 19:08
  • @Dan Bron - profligate! I gotcha, D (but you owe me). ;-)
    – user98990
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 19:26
  • 3
    I know this is a good word but it really doesn't apply to the example the OP has included now.
    – Catija
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 19:27

One more try then, since you elaborated further on the description.

Cryptic: having or seeming to have a hidden or ambiguous meaning, marked by an often perplexing brevity

It doesn't really have the negative connotation, maybe a slight negative shading, but otherwise it seems right.


I'd say they were being enigmatic.



  1. having an often intentionally veiled or uncertain meaning. the Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile
  • Good word. I think this is the closest definition in a single word.
    – raddevus
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 14:22
  • Not nearly negative enough. It's a great word and with some negative modifier could be perfect, but on its own would not match the description in the question.
    – KRyan
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 15:02

There's a book by Suzette Haden Elgin called the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense.

It's not a single word, but she calls this person who makes vague, negative comments a verbal abuser. Her books describe how a verbal abuser may speak injuriously by using vocal inflection.

For example, imagine Tony is having difficulty handling a task. If the abuser said,

Even BILL could handle THAT TASK.

then a native English speaker would immediately know:

  1. The abuser does not think much of Tony.
  2. The abuser does not think much of Bill's abilities.
  3. The abuser does not think the task is very difficult.

Here, the abuser is making a vague, negative statement with little risk of being revealed, because the literal meaning of the sentence is not injurious.

  • Yes, implicit manipulation, subtle coercion.
    – user98990
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 19:43

She's being:

  • abstruse: hard to understand
  • dim: perceived by the senses or mind indistinctly or weakly
  • foggy: blurred or obscured as if by fog
  • indistinct: not clearly recognizable or understandable
  • obfuscatory: evasive, unclear, or confusing
  • evasive: tending or intended to evade
  • obscurant: tending to make obscure
  • indefinite: not clear or certain in meaning or details
  • vague: not clear in meaning : stated in a way that is general and not specific
  • inexplicit: not explicit. for questions like “What do you think of my new haircut?” sometimes an inexplicit response is safest
  • complicated: hard to understand, explain, or deal with : having many parts or steps
  • difficult: not willing to help others by changing your behavior : stubborn or unreasonable


2. perversely inclined to disagree or to do the opposite of what is expected or desired.


is possibly that except for the refusal to properly explain but that is usually part of such behaviour.


For the purpose of making other people want to know what they are thinking.

I would say Alice is being dramatic. Maybe she is a drama queen.

It could even be used in addition to the other suggested answers of "cryptic" or "tease". Maybe she is being dramatically cryptic or maybe she is a dramatic tease.


attracting attention : causing people to carefully listen, look, etc.


coy (kɔɪ)


  1. (usually of a woman) affectedly demure, esp in a playful or provocative manner
  2. shy; modest
  3. evasive, esp in an annoying way

In the UK, a person who habitually makes vague unpleasant remarks about others with the intention of undermining them is called a snake in the grass.

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