What English word do you recommend for

  • something which is thought or even openly blamed to be the reason for a real problem, but is at most a part or result of said problem, not its cause


Of course,

  • scapegoat

  • red herring

  • EDIT: and also strawman

come to mind, but are, respectively, too harsh, too unspecific, and too much blaming-the-blamer-for-having-set-up-the-perceived-reason.

Do you recommend references in Linguistics or Psychology journals on this topic?

  • Sounds like a sacrificial lamb thrown under the bus. That's my thought, mix your own metaphors. – Yosef Baskin Jul 27 '17 at 17:52
  • Victim blaming – Davo Jul 27 '17 at 19:15
  • just FYI a strawman is not even close to that. A strawman is an initial proposal with admitted faults that is used as a basis to tease out a better solution. – Jim Jul 28 '17 at 4:55

Superficial cause

This, gentlemen, is my profound conviction: I believe that we are at this moment sleeping on a volcano. I am profoundly convinced of it I was saying just now that this evil would sooner or later, I know not how or whence it will come, bring with it a most serious revolution: be assured that that is so. When I come to investigate what, at different times, in different periods, among different peoples, has been the effective cause that has brought about the downfall of the governing classes, I perceive this or that event, man, or accidental or superficial cause; but, believe me, the real reason, the effective reason that causes men to lose political power is that they have become unworthy to retain it.


emphasis mine.


Putative cause MW definition of putative

The cause assumed or supposed to be the reason for something


How about, a symptom, not the disease?


I think your strategy of looking to logical fallacies is a good one.

Other recommendations I have are:

straw man

"a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while refuting an argument that was not advanced by that opponent"


"a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is referred to by the name of something closely associated with that thing or concept"

  • Thanks. "strawman", which I should have included in the list of terms-with-the-wrong-nuance, for the purposes of this question has the unintended connotation of "having been intentionally set up by someone", whereas here the metaphor/word is supposed to also convey that the blamer/fearer is being misled by the thing in question, while not having set it up themselves. – guest Jul 27 '17 at 17:52

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