Is there a word or idiom to describe an attempt to win an argument through the introduction of a concept or word that is intellectually outside the grasp of the opponent?

For example, after a reasoned debate in a non-intellectual forum, where Side A has the upper-hand, Side B chimes in with:

"Well we just have different ontologies."

Side B's expectation being that Side A does not know what an ontology is, and therefore implying Side A should accept that there must be some substance to Side B's position based on his clearly superior knowledge.

  • 3
    To flummox, perhaps? Nov 2, 2015 at 22:52
  • 4
    Or maybe bamboozle ?
    – Dan
    Nov 2, 2015 at 22:56
  • "I drowned him in my prodigious erudition."
    – Ricky
    Nov 2, 2015 at 22:57
  • 1
    Couldn't find a reference in a quick search, but "snow" used to be used, as in: "She snowed me with quotes from some guy Wittstein, Wittgen...whatever, some German dude."
    – ab2
    Nov 2, 2015 at 22:59
  • 1
    Blinding your opponent with science/big words/erudition etc.?
    – WS2
    Nov 2, 2015 at 23:36

3 Answers 3


You're talking about a type of argument and, more precisely, a type of fallacy. As described and as exampled in your question, the type could be one or more of several.

The most likely fallacy is the 'ad hominem':

An argument based on the perceived failings of an adversary rather than on the merits of the case; a logical fallacy that involves a personal attack.

(From "ad hominem" at About Education.)

This type, the 'ad hominem' most directly matches all the stipulations of your overall question.

However, the type of fallacy includes elements of the 'red herring', where the 'red herring' is the smokescreen offered by "ontology" which, as you describe it, may have no bearing on the argument.

A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to "win" an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic.

(From The Nizkor Project, "Fallacy: Red Herring".)

To sum up, the word or phrase that best describes "an attempt to win an argument through the introduction of a concept or word that is intellectually outside the grasp of the opponent" is 'ad hominem argument', or 'ad hominem fallacy'. For the particular example you give of an 'ad hominem fallacy', the phrase 'red herring' also describes the argument.


He tried to throw me a curveball.

Primarily for someone acting in an unexpected manner, but perhaps this qualifies?

  • No. It could apply to fair play as well. What the OP has in mind (if I understand him correctly) is a dirty trick.
    – Ricky
    Nov 2, 2015 at 23:15
  • Not sure that using the word 'ontology' could be called a 'dirty trick'... ;-) Whereas trying to deceive a batter by using a curveball seems a pretty tricky play.
    – T. Ioca
    Nov 2, 2015 at 23:47
  • loca: Hmm. The batter is trained to expect curveballs. While ontology is a worthless discipline that no casual conversationalist is obligated to have heard of. We're not talking about verismo opera here, you know. Ontology, imagine.
    – Ricky
    Nov 3, 2015 at 0:02
  • So it comes down to the coach. Side A's guy should have had them hitting the dictionary every Saturday. It's ontological dear Watson.
    – T. Ioca
    Nov 3, 2015 at 0:16
  • throwing up a smoke screen i.word.com/idictionary/smoke%20screen Nov 3, 2015 at 7:27

That's an example of snowing:

snow verb (TRICK)

  • US informal to ​deceive or ​trick someone by ​talking a lot or by giving them a lot of ​information: "It ​felt like she was snowing us with ​statistics." - Dictionary.Cambridge.org

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