8

Sometimes, others just inform us about things without us asking them, other times they do not do that even if we ask them. I want a verb for when others do not give us information — whether because they do not like to or they just don't give it, but we cannot directly ask them to — but we actively extract the information from them sometimes without them being aware of it.

So the word I am looking for shouldn't be only for cases where we coerce or force others to give us information, and it shouldn't be only for cases where others do not like to give us information.

Example:

I needed that information. But I couldn't ask her for it, or most probably she would not give to me even if I asked her. So, I .... the information I wanted.

It could be a phrasal verb and so not just a single word, but I couldn't devise a blank suitable for all possibilities!

Two verbs I've already had but I think are not suitable:

to give someone the third degree Source

To prize something from/out of somebody Source

  • This could be termed Benign Social Engineering - or Friendly Phishing, perhaps. – ekhumoro Aug 20 '17 at 6:32
  • Brain hacking. E.g. "I hacked his brain and got what I needed, didn't even trigger any alarms." Seriously. – AviD Aug 20 '17 at 11:46
  • Voluntary or involuntary? With coercion or without (e.g. police vs. salesman)? Physical or mental coercion? Mild or severe? In person or over phone/email? This could be anything from "interview" to "question" to "debrief" to "interrogate" to "torture".. – smci Aug 21 '17 at 5:13
  • @Sasan - your accepted answer "winkled" is rather obscure word. "Elicited" or "coaxed" are much more known (and both answers higher rated). Do you know you can re-evaluate your vote and change the accepted answer? – Peter M. - stands for Monica Apr 3 '18 at 16:32
  • @PeterMasiar Yes, I know that. It yet seems to me that "winkle out" is the best suggestion. "Coaxed" and "elicit" both have other more basic meanings. But this is one main example Oxford dictionary gives for "winkle": Ewan managed to winkle the details out of him. – Sasan Apr 3 '18 at 20:36

14 Answers 14

10

One term I know of for this is winkle (out). From MacMillan Dictionary:

winkle out [TRANSITIVE]
BRITISH INFORMAL
1 to get something such as information from someone when they did not intend to give it to you

As an American, it does sound rather British to me, but it does seem a useful term. As far as I can tell, it doesn't have a strong implication of exactly what methods were used to elicit the information; that is, it might be through persistent questioning, or it might be through shrewd observation and deduction. A couple of examples:

'But I winkled it out of the neighbours, piece by piece. I put all the bits together and bingo.'
(Susanna Jones, The Missing Person's Guide to Love, 2008. Snippet view.)

Cara had refrained from explaining the whole sordid mess in her letter to Marten, saying only that I'd lost all my earnings thanks to a business partner's betrayal. Still, I wouldn't put it past Marten to have somehow winkled out every last detail. If he didn't already know, he would soon.
(Courtney Schafer, The Tainted City, 2012)

It also doesn't necessarily imply why the information isn't immediately forthcoming—it could be that the person with the information is actively resistant to sharing, or it could just be an entirely neutral situation, as when scientists winkle out information about the human genome or editors winkle out subtle nuances of meaning between similar phrases.

So in your example, you could say

I needed that information. But I couldn't ask her for it, or most probably she would not give to me even if I asked her. So, I winkled out the information I wanted.

You could add a sentence or clause explaining exactly how you did this (e.g. by observing what she didn't say or by asking about something else so that she inadvertently revealed the info you really wanted). If you somehow got the information from her directly, you could also slightly rephrase to

. . . So I winkled it [the information] out of her.

  • I am American, and the term sounds British to me too, but to me it suggests persistent and pointed questioning, not subtlety. – Beta Aug 19 '17 at 13:58
  • 1
    I'd prefer to have an actual BrE speaker weigh in on this specifically in the context of questioning, but I've seen many examples where methods other than interrogation were described as "winkling out" (I don't think any of the examples I quoted imply pointed questioning, for starters). The term is used pretty widely—even in descriptions of cricket matches, where it does specifically collocate with subtlety, e.g. "The rest were winkled out with old-fashioned subtlety." – 1006a Aug 19 '17 at 19:33
33

You're looking for elicit:

Elicit: transitive verb : to draw forth or bring out (something latent or potential)

Example: While he remained cagey during our interview, I was able to elicit the details I needed for my story.

Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/elicit

  • 3
    Definitely elicit, as in "My last offer finally elicited the response I was after" or "The elicitation of customer requirements isn't always a straightforward process." – juxtapose Aug 17 '17 at 21:53
  • 1
    I think of elicit as causing a forced response (but not necessarily in a subtle way). His snide comment elicited a laugh from the jurors. – jorfus Aug 18 '17 at 0:42
  • 4
    Elicit seems to me to describe an end result. 'She elicited the necessary information'. But it doesn't describe a process. What does 'eliciting' look or sound like? – WS2 Aug 18 '17 at 6:30
17

It seems the question here is for a term to describe a gentle process of drawing information out of a reluctant party. Possibly the subject being aware that the interrogation is taking place.

I'd use something like:

She was reluctant to tell me the whole story, so I coaxed the details out of her.

This is connotations of gently drawing a reluctant or frightened animal.

or

I teased the information out of her without alerting her to my interest in the matter.

This has connotations of gently drawing forth. Usually a delicate object that could be broken if it's pulled to suddenly or firmly.

11

I started out with wheedle as in I wheedled the information out of her.

But after looking in a thesaurus found all of the following, several of which would seems possible, if used with appropriate connecting grammar.

coax, cajole, inveigle, lure, induce, blarney, entice, charm, tempt, beguile, flatter, persuade, influence, sway, win someone over, bring someone round, prod, talk, convince, make, get, press, prevail on, get round, argue, reason, urge, pressure, pressurize, bring pressure to bear on, coerce; informal sweet-talk, soft-soap, twist someone's arm, smooth-talk, butter someone up "she had wheedled us into employing her brother"

  • 5
    I think of wheedle being whiny or dogged. "She wheedled the full story out of me over the coming months and years, never letting the matter drop." – jorfus Aug 18 '17 at 0:40
9

One word that might work in your situation is interrogate.

ask questions of (someone) closely, aggressively, or formally.
"he was interrogated by MI6"
synonyms: question, put questions to, cross-question, cross-examine, quiz, probe, catechize, sound out; interview, examine, debrief; informalpump, grill, give someone the third degree, put someone through the third degree, put the screws on, put someone through the wringer, worm something out of someone

It's likely more formal than you'd want, but it gets across the idea of forcing information out of someone.

I needed that information. But I couldn't ask her for it, or most probably she would not give to me even if I asked her. So, I interrogated her for the information I wanted.

7

Wring

to extract or get by forceful effort or means (often followed by out).

dictionary.com

To me, this shows how you can twist a conversation to gather the information indirectly.

I needed that information. But I couldn't ask her for it, or most probably she would not give to me even if I asked her. So, I wrung the information I wanted out of our conversation together, dodging around the topic, but gradually inferring enough to complete the picture.

  • Can we also say "wring the information from others"? – Sasan Aug 17 '17 at 22:30
  • 1
    @Sasan of course! You could say that or I wrung the information from her friends or something like that. – BlackThorn Aug 17 '17 at 22:32
  • 3
    Wring if forceful, it is associated with questioning under force or duress. – jorfus Aug 18 '17 at 0:35
6

To pry (or pry out) information from someone is another common way of saying it. (I'm surprised no one else has said this yet.)

to pry (verb) 2. trans. To obtain or extract, esp. with difficulty. Usually with out (of). (OED)

I think the Ngrams below make a strong case for pry coming in 2nd behind elicit. See 2 Ngrams below.

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1896 C. M. Sheldon His Brother's Keeper iii. 66 We managed to pry out of him that he had seen you and Eric go down the ladders.

1900 G. Ade More Fables 46 Usually, when she wanted any Pin Money, she had to Pry it out of him.

1938 N.Y. Times 23 Sept. 37/2 He had pried it out of Fielding Yost in four hours of pointed questioning and evasive answering.

1976 Time 20 Dec. 1/2 When Watergate raised questions about the integrity of the Executive Branch, Congress appointed an independent prosecutor to pry out all the facts.

2004 M. Flook Lux 128 Alden followed the scanty directions she had pried out of the minimart clerk.

5

I can think of two options (all definitions OED):

  1. To suss out the information:

    To investigate, to discover the truth about (a person or thing).

    This usually has the connotation of finding things out via careful observation rather than direct questioning.

  2. To finagle the information:

    To use dishonest or devious methods to bring something about; to fiddle. Also trans., to ‘wangle’, to scheme, to get (something) by trickery.

    This emphasizes the use of underhanded means to obtain information that someone doesn't want you to have.

  • 2
    I do not think suss out is relevant here - at least that is not the way it is used in Britain. Suss out usually means working something out for oneself e.g. Abandoned on a lonely road she quickly sussed out where exactly she was. And finagle has no direct applicability to getting information from someone else. – WS2 Aug 17 '17 at 19:11
  • 1
    I've often seen suss out used in precisely the OP's situation in US contexts. Merriam-Webster's recent examples from the web back up that usage, too. Oxford Dictionary's entry sounds more like @WS2's usage, but their definition 1.1 and a few of the examples thereunder come pretty close to the OP's situation, as well, e.g. ‘After a few hours my identity as a journalist is sussed out.’. – 1006a Aug 17 '17 at 19:45
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    @1006a "sass out" in the related sense only means to find out something about someone, for example, who someone is. What the OP is looking for is a word for when we gain the information someone has and that can be more than information about someone. – Sasan Aug 17 '17 at 19:55
  • 1
    @WS2 The first example in M-W is In recent months, Trump’s associates have repeatedly elided or evaded details about their contacts with the Kremlin and its allies—that is, until further questions have sussed out something closer to the truth from the Atlantic. That surely is referring to actively extracting fairly detailed information, and in a clearly US context? To be clear, I'm not disagreeing with your interpretation of how it would be used by British writers, but I think it has drifted somewhat from that usage in an American context, possibly via OD's definition 1.1. – 1006a Aug 17 '17 at 20:08
  • 1
    "Suss out" would be useful in the context of unraveling a mystery, possibly by filling in missing details by leaps of logic. – jorfus Aug 18 '17 at 0:37
4

I learned my English in 1950s Edinburgh and there you could "pump" someone for information. I think it was generally used when the interrogatee was either "simple" (as we used to say, meaning intellectually challenged) or a child, so they were unaware that they were being used to provide information.

3

Although I would add my vote for elicit, there is one more I have seen used here but not proposed as an answer: draw out, either "draw it out of them", or "draw them out".

3

My first thought was that you would grill them for the information. EG:

I needed that information. But I couldn't ask her for it, or most probably she would not give to me even if I asked her. So, I grilled her for the information I wanted.

Merriam-Webster:

Definition of grill
transitive verb
1 :  to broil on a grill; also :  to fry or toast on a griddle

2 :
    a :  to torment as if by broiling
    b :  to question intensely the police grilled the suspect
2

I believe you are looking for exfiltrate.

like:

"Data exfiltration, also called data extrusion, is the unauthorized transfer of data from a computer. Such a transfer may be manual and carried out by someone with physical access to a computer or it may be automated and carried out through malicious programming over a network." (http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/data-exfiltration-data-extrusion)

  • 2
    Hello, KiDoDa. I wouldn't use this for drawing out information by questioning a person, which is what OP asks about, would you? – Edwin Ashworth Aug 18 '17 at 16:32
2

That can be called coercing information (from someone).

So, I coerced the information I wanted.

ODO:

coerce

VERB

[WITH OBJECT]

1.1 Obtain (something) by using force or threats.

‘Those detained face beatings and other forms of torture, aimed at coercing confessions or information about rebel forces.’

0

I think the original poster has already used a suitable term:

extract
Obtain (something such as money or information) from someone unwilling to give it.
Oxford Dictionary, 1.2.

I needed that information. But I couldn't ask her for it, or most probably she would not give to me even if I asked her. So, I extracted the information I wanted.

The insertion of a qualifying adverb such as surreptitiously or forcibly before extracted would make the last sentence more precise and informative.

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