A term for getting out of a task by claiming your inability to do it. If I remember correctly the word has 'impotence' in it.

For example:

"John could you cook us dinner?"

"Me? No, I'm really bad at cooking.. you want Anny to do it"

"John, stop {claiming inability} and get on with it!"

I'm looking for a word that describes what John just did.

  • Is the intention to convey that a someone feels happy because they are incapable of performing a task? May 11, 2017 at 10:18
  • No, it's a way to get out of tasks/favors/obligations
    – Voly
    May 14, 2017 at 8:23
  • How about "terrible"? I guess it's the most used..
    – Mr. Robot
    May 14, 2017 at 8:32
  • 1
    The proper phrase would be strategic ineptitude.
    – Sven Yargs
    May 24, 2017 at 4:39
  • 1
    Mainstream use of the phrase strategic ineptitude refers to incompetence at strategy—not displays of seeming incompetence as a strategy to serve some ulterior purpose. The latter sense of the phrase, though rare, does come up, as in this instance from a 2009 post on an art blog: "I was worrying over whether ineptitude as a strategy, as a way of questioning certain artistic meta-narratives, butts up against ineptitude that happens because an artist doesn't know any better." But as far as I can tell, strategic ineptitude is not commonly used in this sense.
    – Sven Yargs
    May 25, 2017 at 16:57

4 Answers 4


"Pleading incompetence" should do it.


noun the quality or condition of being incompetent; lack of ability.


  • I think you might have found the word the OP was looking for. But as far as answers go on this site, it's not very good. A good answer will have dictionary definitions of the word(s) suggested, along with a reference to where the definition came from.
    – AndyT
    May 17, 2017 at 13:21
  • Apologies, it was my first post and I was just trying to help. I'll know better next time. May 17, 2017 at 15:51
  • 1
    You can always edit your posts (and others) by clicking on "edit" below it. I've edited in a definition and link for this answer.
    – AndyT
    May 17, 2017 at 15:58

How about 'layman'?

From Merriam Webster:- Definition of layman : a person who does not belong to a particular profession or who is not expert in some field.

Ex: - For a layman, he knows a lot about the law.

  • Not quite as someone might say he is a layman in a specific field and thus rather not do a certain task relevant to that field but what I am looking for is more of a 'meta' term for the scenario itself i.e the claiming of inability to get out of the task
    – Voly
    May 17, 2017 at 6:35
  • A layman is synonymous with "beginner" (roughly speaking) That is not the same as "pretending to be a beginner so you don't have to put in the effort while you're actually really capable of doing so"
    – Flater
    May 17, 2017 at 12:44
  • @Flater - Yes, I am off the mark. @ Voly - You could use any of the phrases suggested by Josh and Peter.
    – user147593
    May 17, 2017 at 13:55

The term "learned helplessness" is sometimes used in this context.

  • 2
    Would "learned helplessness" not imply that it is learned behavior, rather than intentionally manipulating? Could it not apply to someone who unintentionally learned the wrong behavior because of their environment, and who does not comprehend why their actions are not right? OP seems to be looking for someone who does it intentionally.
    – Flater
    May 17, 2017 at 13:58
  • Learned Helplessness is a technical term from the field of psychology. It's possible that John (from the story) is suffering from it, but there is no reason to suppose that he is.
    – dangph
    May 24, 2017 at 4:59

"John, stop feigning impotence and get on with it!"

You requested a phrase containing "impotence," and this one works. (I don't know if it's the phrase you heard before, though.)

feign: 1a. To give a false appearance of: feign sleep.

(American Heritage)

impotence -- "lack of power, strength, or vigor" Merriam-Webster

Thanks to Antonia for the latter definition.


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