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Is there a non-vulgar version of “pulled it out of their ass” ? It's a useful phrase, but not one to be used in professional environments.

For example:

There is no way John’s projections for next year’s sales are accurate. He ____.

marked as duplicate by Mari-Lou A, tchrist Jan 21 '18 at 18:12

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12 Answers 12

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Pulled it out of thin air works well. It keeps the pulled which reminds people of the phrase you're avoiding, while out of thin air means from nothing. A (probably older) variation is plucked out of thin air.

You also hear pulled it out of their rear end/backside but I guess these versions don't really help much.

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    I've also heard the term "Pulled it out of their hat" – Gogeta70 Jan 16 '18 at 17:16
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    I've heard plucked out of thin air. – Joshua Jan 16 '18 at 22:02
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    As for versions which don't help much, I have a strong preference for "rectally derived," especially when used for numbers or analysis. – Cort Ammon Jan 17 '18 at 23:13
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    @Gogeta70 To me, "pulled it out of their hat" implies that they had some preplanned thing waiting behind the scenes. "Out of thin air" or the original vulgar version implies conjuring it in the heat of the moment. – Dan Jan 18 '18 at 17:20
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    Along the lines of 'rectally derived' there's also WAG. However, "Wild @$$ Guess" is unacceptable in some environments. – AlG Jan 19 '18 at 15:16
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For a usage that implies that something (an object or idea, etc.) appeared from nowhere, you could say, "He pulled it out of thin air."

On the other hand, if what you want is a usage meaning that they are "bullshitting" (as in making something up), then you could say, "He fabricated it out of whole cloth."

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    @SonOfPingu I'm a full-blooded American, and I use both of these phrases fairly regularly. – Geoffrey Jan 16 '18 at 7:25
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    Good to know. I've never heard it before. Regional perhaps? – SonOfPingu Jan 16 '18 at 9:15
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    never heard "He fabricated it out of whole cloth" – theonlygusti Jan 16 '18 at 11:58
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    Whole cloth is a phase that is a little aged, but certainly fits an academic or professional situation – Dent7777 Jan 16 '18 at 17:39
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    I think "made" is more common than "fabricated." – jpmc26 Jan 16 '18 at 22:37
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"Pulled it out of their hat" - English usage, common. Says exactly the same thing but less offensively. Tone of speech does that for you - the more dripping with sarcasm and disbelief, the better. Add a raised eye brow smirk for full flavour.

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    To me that means "surprisingly pulled it off/succeeded". In a similar phrase to "he pulled it out of the bag". Whereas I get the feeling OP was asking for something meaning "he made it up/it was a lie". – Bilkokuya Jan 16 '18 at 11:57
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    I'd agree with @Bilkokuya, "pulled it out of their hat" has more a feeling of "ace in the hole" to me than got through on bluster – anotherdave Jan 16 '18 at 19:51
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    Would also agree with @Bilkokuya - I wonder if there's some confusion with 'talking through their hat', to talk about something with no real understanding of the subject matter. To pull it out of the hat (in UK English) would be to 'produce something surprising and unexpected that helps you succeed' (see, e.g. Collins UK.) – Withnail Jan 17 '18 at 11:01
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    Agreed with the other comments, this means surprisingly pulled it off and succeeded (think a magician pulling a rabbit out of their hat) and this is even demonstrated by the more dripping with sarcasm and disbelief, the better advice. If it's sarcastic, it's not what the question is asking for. – Josh Jan 17 '18 at 20:34
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    I've seen "pulled it out of a hat" many times to mean exactly what is asked by the OP. I saw a mathoverflow answer the other day that referred to this as the "Stetson Harrison method"[see (1)] As for sarcasm, either term (hat or arse) can be used sarcastically, or not. The various contexts (such as a "surprising victory") in this answer/comments are suited by either phrase. Perhaps some are thinking of "hat trick"? [ref 1]: urbandictionary.com/… – Darren Ringer Jan 17 '18 at 21:40
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If you really want to sound professional without anyone knowing that you made everything up you can say:

The data comes from applying the Stetson-Harrison method

From the entry on Urban Dictionary:

Stetson-Harrison method

A general method for estimating various numerical values. The values are pulled out of a hat (Stetson), i.e. made up. The purpose of Harrison is to increase credibility.

I do not know how well known this is outside a nerdy subset of the academic world, but a lot of my friends would know what this means. YMMV.

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    A tip of my stetson to you sir, you made my day:) – ntg Jan 17 '18 at 13:27
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    This is truly excellent – Mad Physicist Jan 17 '18 at 21:03
  • Is the Harrison in this an allusion to one's harris, from where the value comes in the Anglo-Saxon version? – Brian Hooper Jan 18 '18 at 15:19
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Johnson's estimates were cut/made from whole cloth.

That's a metaphor dating from when material was more expensive, and it was common for one item of clothing to be recycled into other items once it was worn out.

A tailoring metaphor, in that the suspicious estimates were not based on any pre-existing estimates or numbers. Instead every part was new and unrelated to prior work.

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    I had a really hard time understanding how this idiom works until I compared it to "from thin air" which has the same implication: that there was nothing proceeding the creation of the story or claim, no facts to base it on. – Segfault Jan 19 '18 at 0:02
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Conjured out of thin air. Conjured a solution right there and then.

Or something along those lines.

  • con•jure (ˈkɒn dʒər, ˈkʌn- for 1–5, 8–10, 12; kənˈdʒʊər for 6, 7, 11 )

    v. -jured, -jur•ing, n. v.t.

    1. to affect or influence by or as if by invocation or spell.
    2. to effect or produce by or as if by magic: to conjure a miracle.
    3. to call upon or command (a devil or spirit) by invocation or spell.
    4. to call or bring into existence by or as if by magic (usu. fol. by up).
    5. to bring to mind (usu. fol. by up).
    6. to appeal to or charge solemnly. v.i.
    7. to call upon or command a devil or spirit by invocation or spell.
    8. to practice magic.
    9. to practice legerdemain.

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/conjure

8

I find "making things up" to be (1) more straightforward; and (2) less vulgar.

Compare and contrast.

There is no way John's projections for next year's sales are accurate. He ____ is making them up.

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    Very surprised that this obvious and correct answer hasn't been voted up more. – David Richerby Jan 19 '18 at 13:18
  • @DavidRicherby it should not be surprising at all. the answer is only one day old. the current top voted answers are all about one month old. thus about 30X more people have read them. – emory Jan 19 '18 at 16:10
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    The OP was asking for an equivalent idiom, though, ... admittedly just speak plainly is often a good suggestion to make but in this case there are multiple idiomatic equivalents. – Will Crawford Jan 20 '18 at 1:19
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    I presumed that they wanted an equivalent but non-vulgar phrase, and that would be pulled out of a hat :) – Will Crawford Jan 23 '18 at 18:32
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    Perhaps just making them up is better then. – Will Crawford Jan 23 '18 at 18:34
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The following express contempt in varying degree for unsupportable claims, or at least a need for caution.

  • Pure speculation (science).
  • Unsupported optimism (science, engineering).
  • Rainbows and unicorns (politics).
  • Fiction presented as fact (politics).
  • Lies, damned lies, and statistics. (politics - Benjamin Disraeli)

Another variant of "...out of thin air" uses plucked:

...while the underpinning notion is sound (that denser gases increase heat retention) typical climate models have been force-fitted to recorded data with constants and scalars plucked from thin air, and fail to predict even the past...

In this excerpt the meaning is "selected without any scientific basis".

And now, for your entertainment, the inimitable Sir Humphrey Appleby:

Unfortunately, although the answer was indeed clear, simple, and straightforward, there is some difficulty in justifiably assigning to it the fourth of the epithets you applied to the statement, inasmuch as the precise correlation between the information you communicated and the facts, insofar as they can be determined and demonstrated, is such as to cause epistemological problems, of sufficient magnitude as to lay upon the logical and semantic resources of the English language a heavier burden than they can reasonably be expected to bear.

3

Slightly more polite, but conveying the same meaning: rectally generated

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    Not profane, but still vulgar. – Matthew Leingang Jan 17 '18 at 19:46
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    Occasionally I'll use the faux-latin "this is an ex-recto estimate". – Russell Borogove Jan 17 '18 at 19:52
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    In the same vein "The estimated numbers were suspiciously brown and sticky" – Criggie Jan 18 '18 at 0:28
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"I wonder where they pulled that from.", or "Where did you pull that from?".

If asked to explain exactly what you mean you can reply with:

"I wonder where they bought that from.", "Where did you buy that from?", or "I don't buy (sh)it.". You can also suggest that they should return it.

1

1.There is no way John's projections for next year's sales are accurate. He materialized them.

When Mrs. Bell fell ill, the Bell Witch caused a bunch of grapes to materialize out of thin air for her to eat. (Poltergeists: and Other Hauntings by Nigel Cawthorne, Rupert Matthews)

2.There is no way John's projections for next year's sales are accurate. He invented them.

(Oxford Living Dictionaries) verb 1.1 Make up (an idea, name, story, etc.), especially so as to deceive someone.

Origin: Late 15th century (in the sense ‘find out, discover’): from Latin invent- ‘contrived, discovered’, from the verb invenire, from in- ‘into’ + venire ‘come’.

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You can use Out of left field for a nonbiological formulation

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    Perhaps you should add that this phrase is primarily used in American English. It is also less well known because of its origins from baseball terminology and is not an accurate substitution here as out of left field usually carries a more "unexpected" meaning to it instead of "made up", which is what OP is asking for here. – HsMjstyMstdn Jan 16 '18 at 15:39
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    Doesn't really mean the same thing. "Out of left field" refers to something unexpected and strange, not to something you made up. – Kevin Jan 17 '18 at 3:58
  • @HsMjstyMstdn It's well-enough understood in British English. We know what it means, even though we've no clue why it means that. – David Richerby Jan 19 '18 at 13:21

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