This question relates to my previous question: More formal word for "know-it-all"

I would like to describe the general attitude of a particular witness, in my closing argument. This will help me comment on her reliability as a witness. She was very negative about everything, and came across as being in a snit about everything. I need a word for this idea of being in a snit. She was opposed to everything. She got herself tied into contradictory knots because she was opposed to so many things.

The word could be an adjective describing her constant oppositional state. Or it could be a word to mean the oppositional state itself. It should show that it comes from a desire to show that everything the parent speaks, acts, dreams, or breathes is wrong. That was her guiding principle. But it was an emotional (visceral) thing for her. She's too stupid to be analytical.

Oppositional doesn't work because two-year-olds are oppositional. They say "no" to everything. This person had a negative attitude only regarding whatever she thought the parents were saying or trying to accomplish.

The closest I've gotten so far is that she was pathologically anti-parent. But I can't say "pathologically" in the closing argument. I need a less offensive sounding word.

(Being in this perpetual snit affected her memory and her judgment. She ended up speaking total nonsense.)

  • Its a shame that on most of the occasions when you could say "anal retentive" and be understood, you can't.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 4:14
  • "Hypercritical" or "thin skinned"?
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 5:12

5 Answers 5


She sounds like a hostile witness, technically an "adverse witness" in a trial who is found by the judge to be hostile (adverse) to the position of the party whose attorney is questioning the witness, even though the attorney called the witness to testify on behalf of his/her client. When the attorney calling the witness finds that the answers are contrary to the legal position of his/her client or the witness becomes openly antagonistic, the attorney may request the judge to declare the witness to be "hostile" or "adverse." If the judge declares the witness to be hostile (i.e. adverse), the attorney may ask "leading" questions which suggest answers or are challenging to the testimony just as on cross examination of a witness who has testified for the opposition.

Or at least hostile . 2.opposed in feeling, action, or character; antagonistic: hostile criticism. 3. characterized by antagonism.

  • Your legal link was really helpful. From it I got "openly antagonistic". I might add "consistent." I can use hostile sometimes, hostile to the family, and antagonistic sometimes. // In terms of standard practice here at ELU, I believe it's encouraged to include both links and definitions. Sometimes people also include an example (not needed here, though). I confess I sometimes omit the definitions, especially if I'm having trouble finding one that matches my own understanding of the word. But you found satisfactory definitions. Could you do a copy and paste into your answer? Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 14:17
  • Thanks for the defs. I added the second part of the legal definition you found, because it was the best part. Interestingly, the hearing officer did allow me to ask "Isn't it true" type questions of this witness. I thought at the time it was just because she was a meandering answerer and he wanted to move things along -- but now I see there may have been a technical component to it as well. Thank you for finding this. Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 14:26

defensive, as used in MentalHelp.net

Generally, when people talk about someone becoming defensive in the context of a conversation, they are meaning that that someone is engaging in emotionally defensive maneuvers designed to ward off their having to experience some unwanted feeling or admit responsibility for some disowned act. People who are acting defensively are essentially trying to protect themselves from feeling a certain uncomfortable way, and from viewing themselves as a failure or otherwise in a negative light.

It sounds as though the person you describe has argued herself into a box and doesn't know how to get out of it. She sees, rightly or wrongly, everything you say as an attack that she must defend herself and her professional reputation against.

defensive, Oxford Living Dictionaries

Very anxious to challenge or avoid criticism.

defensive, The Free Dictionary

Psychology: Constantly protecting oneself from criticism, exposure of one's shortcomings, or other real or perceived threats to the ego........

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin: Dinah had heard, from various sources, what was going on, and resolved to stand on defensive and conservative ground,--mentally determined to oppose and ignore every new measure, without any actual observable contest



One word that immediately comes to my mind is irascible: "becoming angry very easily; having a bad temper." There's also one sense of "contrary" that fits--"temperamentally unwilling to accept control or advice.


How about chip on one's shoulder?

chip on one's shoulder: a disposition to quarrel [Dictionary.com]

chip on (one's) shoulder: a habitually hostile or combative attitude [The Free Dictionary]

The witness in your question has a chip on her shoulder. Hard to deal with.

One might also characterize your witness as pissed off at the world. Also hard to deal with.

pissed off: very disgruntled, angry, or outraged [From The Free Dictionary]

As accurate as this might be, I'm not sure you could use it to characterize the witness in court, but disgruntled could work:

disgruntled: displeased and discontented; sulky; peevish [Dictionary.com]

It seems to me you could describe the witness as having a chip on her shoulder, as being pissed off at the world (maybe), or as being very disgruntled.

  • That's the right idea. Might be hard to fit into a sentence. Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 3:02
  • @aparente001 I've edited my answer. See if you like it better. I think you could easily use any of these possibilities in a sentence. The first two are common idioms. Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 3:35
  • I am still leaning towards the chip. (P___ off - formal?!) Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 3:40
  • @aparente001 No, not formal, but it fits well the person you are describing. Of the three, and given your context, I think chip fits best. Disgruntled also works, but it's not as colorful. How are you doing? Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 3:45
  • I think the chip is about at the same level of formality as the snit. Hostile and antagonistic, and their associated nouns, are what I'm going to aim for in my document. But the meaning was right on target. Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 14:21

It seems to me that your protagonist was vexatiously obstructive. The use of vexatious is not the legal but the more geneneral one

Causing or tending to cause annoyance, frustration or worry

You could also claim that she expressed negativity towards you and your opinions and experience since she appears to have expressed criticism of you.

  • Obstructive is a word I can use for another person in the cast of characters. Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 13:28

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