What do you call a person whose interest might be to discredit your results by trying to find hypothetical mistakes? This person does not seem to focus on solving a problem with pragmatism. Is there a word or an expression for that?

I came up with an answer and the described solution seems valid. Most participants give good feedback, except this one particular person.

My feeling is that this person merely wants to discredit my solution/answer. I suspect that he/she does this in order to favor his/her own answer/solution.

P.S.: If possible I'd like to put it in a (most?) polite way. Let's say I am talking to the Queen of England and I want to tell that she ...

P.S.S.: Of course I am interested in other (formal, familiar, vulgar, etc.) words or expressions too. But let me know in which context it can be used appropriately.

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    "Mary, Mary quite contrary, How does your garden grow?" Is that nursery rhyme still known and chanted? I thought the American equivalent was "just plain cussed."
    – Hugh
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 18:39
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    In mostly math and science contexts, when someone approaches a question with too much of a preconceived notion of its solution, and therefore might tend to cavil when a novel idea is presented as a response, it's said that he/she has a "solution looking for a problem."
    – jsoteeln
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 20:10
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    I have called such a person an "analytic paralytic" by construction from "analysis paralysis", even though such a construction has defects. Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 22:14
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    In your case, the best word for the other person is right. You freely admit that you have no idea whatsoever whether the bad circumstances exist that cause your proposed solution to fail -- that means that it is your assumption that they won't exist that is bad, and his objection is perfectly legitimate under the rules of logic.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 14:40
  • 2
    Is there a reason this is cross posted on both ELU and ELL? One of them needs to be removed as cross posting is strongly discouraged.
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 16:23

23 Answers 23


Such an individual could be described as a cynic, or a cynical and captious person.

Caveat: when expressing such an evaluation to royalty, care must be taken, as unforeseen and quite gruesome consequences can result. First, locate your points of egress. Second, ensure no sharp or blunt objects are within the royal reach, e.g., daggers, scepters, falchions, maces, guillotines, etc. Third, the evaluation should be accompanied with much bowing and scraping.

e.g., "My Queen, I find your rejection of my suggestions for a wardrobe makeover utterly cynical and captious! Ah, of course I mean that in the nicest, most flattering way, your Majesty."

cynical adjective

1: captious, peevish

2: having or showing the attitude or temper of a cynic

cynic noun

2: a faultfinding captious critic (especially: one who believes that human conduct is motivated wholly by self-interest)

captious adjective

1: marked by an often ill-natured inclination to stress faults and raise objections

2: calculated to confuse, entrap, or entangle in argument

(all linked definitions courtesy of Merriam-Webster online)

  • 6
    "Captious" -made my day; +1. Especially after seeing M-W's 'captious sloganeering' and 'captious and cranky eaters.'
    – Hugh
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 18:32
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    Difficult to make a decision. Many good answers here. Thank you very much Eva (and the others).
    – Ely
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 14:12
  • My pleasure Elyasin. You asked a good question that elicited much community response. Good job. :-)
    – user98990
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 15:31


nay•say•er (ˈneɪˌseɪ ər)

n. a person who habitually expresses negative or pessimistic views.


Other possibilities




wet blanket etc.

  • 1
    We can all share here, kids =)
    – nikodaemus
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 18:28
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    @LittleEva "cynic" was in this answer 11 minutes before yours. It was simply reformatted into a vertical list instead of a horizontal one.
    – Cat
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 18:36
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    Dear chastely & @Eric, I apologize. I didn't see it before the edit. Thanks for correcting my error, no offense was intended, and the down-vote was not mine.
    – user98990
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 18:40
  • I think defeatist is possibly the best answer here, but I still don't think it quite fits
    – dwjohnston
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 21:34

"Nit-picking" is defined by Merriam-Webster as "minute and usually unjustified criticism". From this comes "nitpicker", someone who engages in nit-picking.


faultfinder or fault-finder (noun):

  1. a person who criticizes someone or something, often in a way that is not fair or reasonable

    Source: M-W

  2. a person given to finding fault; chronic captious complainer

    Source: Collins

The first, recorded recipient of the above 'nickname' was most probably Timaeus , the ancient Greek historian.

'Timaeus was so free in his criticisms of just about everybody that he was wittily dubbed Epitimaeus: Mr Faultfinder.'
Source: The Greek Historians: Epilogue p101


Perhaps naysayer

one who denies, refuses, opposes, or is skeptical or cynical about something


  • Two users have posted "naysayer" as an answer, this one was posted first. If you like this term then consider giving credit where credit is due.
    – user98990
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 15:28

The obvious pessimist applies as a derivative of pessimism:


1 A tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen:


Your compatriot is a crepehanger


: one who takes a pessimistic view of things : killjoy

man is doomed, say the crepehangers, to overpopulate his planet —Time

Supposedly from people who compulsively worried about death, which was signified by the black crepe hung over windows or worn with the clothing of mourners.


To avoid any overly negative connotation, you can use playing devil's advocate.


A person who expresses a contentious opinion in order to provoke debate or test the strength of the opposing arguments:

"the interviewer will need to play devil's advocate to put the other side's case forward"

  • 3
    That's a decent phrase but usually somebody playing devil's advocate IS interested in reasoning through the problem. They are just choosing to do so by deliberately presenting a case they don't entirely agree with and seeing if they can make it hold water. Thus, while this phrase might answer the question, I don't think this is the best term for this question. ... I guess you could have somebody playing devil's advocate just to annoy somebody. Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 18:55
  • Bobby Kennedy, FTW. He ain't no Yes Man - I disagree with @MarkBalhoff, D.A.'s expect you to present a case that holds water, after or while they poke holes in it.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 3:07
  • @Mazura Exactly what I said. I probably should have been clearer with my pronouns that "they can make it hold water" referred to the other people in the group defending the popular stance but I still think that this interpretation of pronouns is the only one that makes sense in the context of the rest of my comment. When the devil's advocator "expect[s] you to present a case that holds water," they are moving toward a resolution which defies the OP's original question premise of "not interested in solving." Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 13:17
  • @Mazura FWIW "He ain't no Yes Man" has a similar issue in that it doesn't really indicate the intentions of the person and even then I would expect that phrase to be mostly used more to mean "He's not a suck up" than "He's actively trying to stifle solutions" Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 13:25

Such a person may, more fundamentally, be a contrarian.


Adversary describes this person, particularly if their opposition to your solution rises from a preexisting rivalry:


1 One’s opponent in a contest, conflict, or dispute:


Middle English: from Old French adversarie, from Latin adversarius 'opposed, opponent', from adversus ... 'against, opposite', past participle of advertere, from ad- 'to' + vertere 'to turn'. (see adverse).

Oxford English Dictionary


A person who just wants to down your solution could very reasonably be called a Debbie Downer. From Drita Skilja, 1001 Idioms to Master Your English (2013):

A Debbie Downer—A person who always has something negative to say and brings other people's excitement and happiness down[.] E.g. Margaret was not invited to the party because she is a Debbie Downer.

Here's an example of the idiom in use, from Judith Belmont & Lora Shore, The Swiss Cheese Theory of Life (2012):

In counseling, Debbie made a conscious effort to stop focusing on what was wrong. ... Debbie realized that so much of what was holding her back was her Debbie Downer attitude. She focused on maintaining a can-do attitude and began to really appreciate all that she had. Debbie's gratitude led to more optimism which allowed her to actually go out and find a fulfilling career.

Likewise from Anthony Davis, Men's Book of Knowledge (2011):

[U]se positive language to encourage others and compliment the people around you at every given opportunity. Praise other people's successes; don't be jealous, be happy for them. Motivate and inspire people to succeed beyond their wildest dreams. The “Debbie downer” gets nowhere and brings everyone down with him. Don't waste time and energy being discouraged by negative circumstances. There is a positive side in every situation. Find it and the world is yours. Don;'t be the guy who thinks of tasks as impossible. Instead, ask yourself: How can I make this possible? Then take action and do it!

Evidently, the idiom "Debbie Downer" refers to a recurring character who began appearing in Saturday Night Live sketches in 2004. But as the third excerpt above indicates, the term may be applied to men or women.

  • 2
    A "Debbie Downer" is actually someone who presents negativity, without necessarily attempting to discredit or dissuade an argument. Disney's "Eor" character is an excellent example of this. I would not use the phrase when attempting to describe an individual that attempts to present conflict for the purpose of discrediting an opponent during a debate (even if it loosely applied, it lacks an element of intent.) It is also typically used in a negative context, to identify one as Debbie Downer carries a negative connotation, it's tantamount to name-calling.
    – wilson0x4d
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 14:26
  • I agree with @ShaunWilson. Debbie Downer is not appropriate here.
    – Drew
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 1:31

If you want to say that your solution will not present practical difficulties, despite not being perfect theoretically, you can say that the other person is being too academic.

Academism results when the reasons for the rule change, but not the rule. - Igor Stravinsky

A difference that makes no difference is no difference. - Beverley Eyre


The chaplain in Joseph Heller's "Catch 22" was

pinched perspiringly in the epistemological dilemma of the skeptic, unable to accept solutions to problems he was unable to dismiss as unsolvable.

Link on Google Books

But I've got to admit that this doesn't really nail it. The person you're describing is not just a skeptic but also neurotic and stubborn. The word hypocrite comes to mind, but doesn't have the component of searching desperately for solutions.


hypercritical hypocrite ?


Sounds like the person was just giving feedback. Did you ask for the feedback? It's not clear what the relationship is, nor the scenario that prompted the discussion.

I'll go with "constructive feedback"

It's unclear why it's apparently not constructive. Was the feedback wrong? If so, then it's just bad feedback.

If the person has a position of power over you, then it's all different.

I guess the right word depends on the relationship. For instance if a friend or foe.

If the person is simply wrong, then it's just "wrong". If it's unclear what's wrong or right, then it's just another point of view.

  • I don't know that person. The feedback is unfair because the person is trying to find a mistake in my answer by adding a hypothetical condition of which you simply do not know whether it applies or not. There is no strong reason to make that assumption in my opinion. And thus I have the feeling that this person is merely trying to make my answer look not so good in order that his answer looks good. Neither my answer nor the person's answer are wrong. None of us has a position of power.
    – Ely
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 8:13

Nobody seems to have mentioned



Unproductive seems best in this context as the aim of the meeting is to make a decision, and this person is making no positive contribution towards that goal.


Pedant might be a good description of that type of person.

Pedant: noun. a person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules or with displaying academic learning.

- Google



While naysayer is definitely what this person would be, the fact that he/she provides a condition to their argument makes this a critique.

According to your example

"If [...] then it is not OK.

Another example, albeit a cheesy one, is

A Negative Nancy




In some contexts, this approach to problem solving can be called over-engineering: attempting to design a solution to every possible problem that might arise without regard to their likelihood or importance, when there could be an infinity of such problems.

For example, in software programming, complex problems can have a lot of "edge cases", i.e. uncommon situations a program or its user might experience. Many times a bug in software arises from the programmer's failure to consider these edge cases, so some amount of extra time must be spent finding and addressing them. In many problem spaces, it turns out there can be virtually infinite edge cases, and yet some programmers insist that their product cannot be given to its users until every edge case is addressed. This can lead to similarly infinite delays in the release (and thus delays in revenue generation). If such programmers aren't made to limit their attention to edge cases of a certain significance, then left to their own devices they will certainly over-engineer the product, wasting resources and precious time to prevent problems that will likely never occur.


@jsoteeln's comment on the question reminds me that someone who cavils (makes petty or unnecessary objections) is a caviller


I've heard the term - Askhole used to describe this type of person/interaction. This type of person is asking a question not because they are interested in the solution but because they want some kind of interaction.

  • 1
    There was another recent question where this answer fit, sort of (made up words don't make good answers). Here, it's not even partially relevant.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 14:38
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    Don't know why this was downvoted. I actually like the answer a lot. Fits better than most other answers plus the pun is funny. +1 from me
    – lhk
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 15:11

It's nitpicker and not naysayer/skeptic

since you asked about finding fault with hypothetical (or insignificant) details, not just about people who are generally skeptical.


I think your best bet may be Hyper-Critical. Someone that basically will split hairs about everything.


A word which I found today and reminded me of this question is censorious.

censorious adjective

severely critical of others

Source: Google

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