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I had mistakenly thought that if you said a person was being 'obtuse' it meant that they were being deliberately unclear. I want to describe a frustrating exchange with someone from an organisation who was professional in their manner but deliberately avoiding direct answers to my questions, (because they seemed to have an agenda not to help me).

What is the word to describe a person that does that?

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    Maybe the confusion comes from the fact that the phrase "being deliberately obtuse" means pretending not to understand. Mar 18, 2021 at 7:55
  • Related: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and many more.
    – tchrist
    Jul 24, 2021 at 1:53

5 Answers 5

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Disingenuous gets my vote:

  1. lacking in frankness, candor, or sincerity; falsely or hypocritically

Although evasive or deceptive may fit, depending on specific usage.

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disobliging - to refuse or neglect to oblige; act contrary to the desire or convenience of; fail to accommodate.

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From the ODO:

circumlocutory

ADJECTIVE

Using many words where fewer would do, especially in a deliberate attempt to be vague or evasive; long-winded. ‘he has a meandering, circumlocutory speaking style’

From Language Log:

... we find the expression in an episode of Yes Minister, in the mouth of a stunningly circumlocutory character:

Sir Humphrey: "Minister, I think there is something you perhaps ought to know."

Jim Hacker: "Yes Humphrey?"

Sir Humphrey: "The identity of the Official whose alleged responsibility for this hypothetical oversight has been the subject of recent discussion, is NOT shrouded in quite such impenetrable obscurity as certain previous disclosures may have led you to assume, but not to put too fine a point on it, the individual in question is, it may surprise you to learn, one whom your present interlocutor is in the habit of defining by means of the perpendicular pronoun."

Jim Hacker: "I beg your pardon?"

Sir Humphrey: "It was...I."

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    Thank you! She wasn't being circumlocutory, but now I know a cool new word! Instantly made me think of a Blackadder episode with a dictionary author:)
    – lightawake
    Dec 27, 2016 at 13:24
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I would say obtuse. The below is from OED.

Obtuse ADJECTIVE

  1. Annoyingly insensitive or slow to understand: ‘he wondered if the doctor was being deliberately obtuse’

    1.1 Difficult to understand, especially deliberately so: ‘some of the lyrics are a bit obtuse’

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  • oh...so you mean that I wasn't wrong with what I thought obtuse meant?
    – lightawake
    Dec 20, 2016 at 14:50
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    I should have read your entire comment, but I still think obtuse is the best word. I think the second sense of the word does denote that the obfuscation is being done deliberately. Dec 20, 2016 at 15:05
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    @lightawake: there's a big difference between "you're obtuse" and "you're being obtuse". The former means "you're a moron", the latter means something like "you're speaking/acting in an obtuse (i.e. opaque, confusing, etc.) way.
    – user175542
    Dec 20, 2016 at 23:24
  • Jonathan Muse - thank you, 'obfuscation being done deliberately' is exactly what I wanted to express!
    – lightawake
    Dec 27, 2016 at 13:30
  • Mobileink - thank you! That clarifies things so much! How come none of the dictionaries gave those examples?! I have never used the word 'obtuse' in the manner of the first example, yet many dictionaries cite that as the meaning and I thought I had been using the word incorrectly. The latter meaning is exactly what I wanted to say about this woman's actions.
    – lightawake
    Dec 27, 2016 at 13:34
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perverse From the OED, perverse

Of a person, action, etc.: going or disposed to go against what is reasonable, logical, expected, or required; contrary, fickle, irrational.

My made-up example:

The agent gave me a lot of irrelevant information but perversely refused to answer my question, which I asked several times and in several ways.

perverse captures the sense that the OP had that "[they] seemed to have an agenda not to help me". Also the sense the OP had that they "deliberately" avoided answering. That is, they weren't stupid, they were perverse.

Example from the OED (same link as above):

1987 P. Farmer Away from Home (1988) 52 She just says, ‘So what?’ knowing she is being perverse, but not caring in the slightest.

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    Yes and I certainly appreciate how this word captures the moral reprehensibleness of their choice to deliberately misunderstand me, and to not choose the best possible interpretation of my words, but instead the worst. Sep 6, 2021 at 11:04

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