10

For example "You don't want to see the Jumanji sequel?!? I'm filing for divorce."

"The soup is cold? I'm throwing dinner in the trash."

"You're buying a house in Harlem? I predict your kids will grow up to be transients and drug addicts."

etc.

Is there a term for this?

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    The fallacy of the excluded middle is part of it. See false dilemma.
    – Phil Sweet
    Mar 23, 2018 at 16:22
  • 7
    This seems related to Slippery Slope, but that usually refers to "If something small, then the absolute worst version is inevitable" rather than specifically the worst result. To compare to your example, "The soup is cold today, but pretty soon your cooking won't even be edible!" Mar 23, 2018 at 16:39
  • 2
    Your first two sentences would suggest extreme brash actions, while the third just seems pessimistic or negative thinking.
    – Zebrafish
    Mar 23, 2018 at 17:01
  • @zebrafish it's still a wild extrapolation Mar 23, 2018 at 17:02
  • 2
    I think it's just hyperbole
    – Jim
    Mar 23, 2018 at 17:36

17 Answers 17

15

You could describe this style of argument as alarmist (adj.). The person who adheres to this style of argument could also be called alarmist as an adjective or even referred to as an alarmist, using the noun sense of the word.

The OED gives this definition:

Characterized by a tendency to exaggerate potential dangers or an eagerness to express fears or concerns publicly; esp. that creates needless worry or panic in this way.

In use in the wild, the word is often somewhat derogatory, meant to describe a person or their argument as extreme, overblown, or highly reactive, which seems to fit with the sentiment sought in the question.

Here is an example of "alarmist" employed with a negative connotation in an opinion piece in the National Review:

Though rhetorically powerful, this alarmist tone is misleading.

10

If you are suggesting that it’s a character flaw, psychological defect or mental health issue, then catastrophising (Merriam-Webster) is the word you are looking for.

Let us start by considering why some people catastrophise – that is, on hearing uncertain news, they imagine the worst possible outcome.
The Guardian

Another is to title the person (a) Chicken Little, which has roughly the same meaning.

However, the style of argument is perhaps a subtly different thing, and I’m not convinced any one word will carry all the strength of meaning you want. The first two examples are probably best handled with fly(ing) off the handle; the third is more in the category of things I’d assume were intended to be (at least partly) humorous, but you could fall back on my first suggestion if they’re serious.

9

I would call this "invoking the nuclear option".

nuclear option

The most drastic or extreme response possible to a particular situation.

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/nuclear_option

Here's an example that actually happened to me this week.

I rent a townhouse in a city I visit often. On Wednesday, I received a text message from the owner saying that she wanted to sell the property and wouldn't be renewing the lease. I couldn't respond to her that day. I planned to respond the next day, but before I could I received a second text message threatening me with legal action if I didn't cooperate with the brokers.

She went nuclear in less than 24 hours. It was an extreme and unnecessary escalation. She had never had a problem with me before.

4
  • Google is not the source of the definition though; that'd be Oxford Dictionaries. Can you edit to give attribution to the original source, and also replace the image with text (which will ensure that the blind and search engines know what it says).
    – Laurel
    Mar 23, 2018 at 18:58
  • 1
    @laurel, thanks for the reference. I didn't know Google used Oxford Dictionaries for that definition. They provide no source data. In fact, they present their definitions as original works. Answer revised. Mar 23, 2018 at 19:02
  • I didn’t think they only used Oxford; I’m sure I’ve seen a few definitions thrown up that came from other sites. @Laurel, do you know more? Mar 24, 2018 at 1:24
  • 1
    @WillCrawford You may be thinking of featured snippets, which are just regular pages that Google thinks may answer your question. If it's a featured snippet, there will be a URL to the source in the box (unlike dictionary entries which have no link).
    – Laurel
    Mar 24, 2018 at 1:38
9

A less formal term might be appeal to ridicule (click for that Wikipedia page). Quote from that page:

"Appeal to ridicule is often found in the form of comparing a nuanced circumstance or argument to a laughably commonplace occurrence or to some other irrelevancy on the basis of comedic timing, wordplay, or making an opponent and their argument the object of a joke." 1

Attribution

1 Wikipedia. (2018, March 21). Appeal to ridicule. Retrieved March 23, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_ridicule

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  • 4
    Reducto is close, but can be a reasonable way to reach a logical conclusion. The tactic as I'm thinking of it is not reasonable, and is invariably confrontational. Mar 23, 2018 at 15:09
  • @MichaelStern you're right, I've added appeal to ridicule, which I think is similar yet different. I think it might be what you were looking for.
    – JJJ
    Mar 23, 2018 at 15:13
  • this is close, but doesn't quite feel right - the OP is looking for scary consequences, not silly ones. Mar 24, 2018 at 9:57
  • @marcellothearcane I disagree, the word scary isn't in the question and the soup example isn't scary.
    – JJJ
    Mar 24, 2018 at 10:30
  • I thought reductio ad absurdum is a style of rhetoric or reasoning to show the fallacy of an argument by using an extreme example as illustration. Obviously it means reducing to the absurd, I'm not sure it's used outside of logic. I might be wrong.
    – Zebrafish
    Mar 24, 2018 at 13:06
7

When I read the example sentences, they all strike me as making a mountain out of a molehill. From wikipedia:

Making a mountain out of a molehill is an idiom referring to over-reactive, histrionic behaviour where a person makes too much of a minor issue. It seems to have come into existence in the 16th century.

However, based on the title of the question, I'm not sure this phrase would be considered a "term." And while it's exaggerating the situation, I don't think this idiom can only be used for the "worst" outcome. On the other hand, the example sentences don't meet these criteria either, so I'm not sure the "term" and "worst" criteria in the title are essential to the answer.

6

I have heard used jumping to (the worst) conclusions, even when the process was not a simple deduction. But your examples (especially the first) are more applications of the appeal to extremes fallacy:

Description: Erroneously attempting to make a reasonable argument into an absurd one, by taking the argument to the extremes.

This can also be done for dismissal purposes, and in that case is more resemblant of a reductio ad absurdum (except that the absurd consequence is not at all inevitable, and that's why the attempt is "erroneous"): "You don't want to stop for lunch now? Sure, let's all starve".

If the consequence is not (as it is in the first example) of the actor's doing, but is feared by the latter to be a consequence of the other party's actions ("if you do that, we'll all die horribly!"), then it would be alarmism. Your third example is more like this.

In your second example, it could also be a case of overreaction.

  1. to react or respond more strongly than is necessary or appropriate.
5

I would go with "hyperbole", which in the analysis of arguments means gross overstatement. The speaker is being hyperbolic. Obviously, a term borrowed from math, in which it has a precise and quantitative meaning.

3
  • 7
    Or you could check the actual etymology. It's nothing to do with math - the Greek term means almost exactly what it does now, "throwing it too far".
    – Nij
    Mar 24, 2018 at 0:42
  • Yes' the math curve's name is adopted from Greek not the other way around.
    – Narasimham
    Mar 25, 2018 at 9:35
  • Quite correct, thanks for catching this and my apologies for not looking it up. The rhetorical and mathematical senses were both coined and used in ancient Greek, and have survived independently.
    – CCTO
    Mar 26, 2018 at 14:37
4

scaremongering free dictionary

One who spreads frightening rumors; an alarmist

3

I'll venture this: black-or-white thinking, or in psychological parlance, splitting.

Splitting (also called black-and-white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking) is the failure in a person's thinking to bring together the dichotomy of both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. It is a common defense mechanism used by many people.1 The individual tends to think in extremes (i.e., an individual's actions and motivations are all good or all bad with no middle ground).
Link

2

From An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments, this is the appeal to fear (also known as: argumentum ad metum, argument from adverse consequences, scare tactics).

This fallacy plays on the fears of an audience by imagining a scary future that would be of their making if some proposition were accepted. Rather than provide solid evidence that the proposition would lead to a certain conclusion (which might be a legitimate cause for fear), such arguments rely on rhetoric, threats, or outright lies. For example, "I ask all employees to vote for my chosen candidate in the upcoming election. If the other candidate wins, he will raise taxes and many of you will lose your jobs."

It goes on to mention that:

When an appeal to fear proceeds to describe a series of terrifying events that will occur as a result of accepting a proposition - without clear causal links between them - it becomes reminiscent of a slippery slope argument and when the other person making the appeal provides one and only one alternative to the proposition under attack it becomes reminiscent of a false dilemma.

An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments - Page 20, Appeal to Fear

You can read more about the Appeal to Fear here.

2

It may be a British English thing, but I think Melodramatic fits well.

Melodrama: overdramatic emotion or behaviour

"Drama Queen" works perfectly as a label, if you can forego the' single-word' aspect of your request.

Drama Queen: someone who gets too upset or angry over small problems:

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/drama-queen

2

You could say they are "going overboard"

overboard (ˈəʊvəˌbɔːd) adv ... 2. go overboard informal a. to be extremely enthusiastic b. to go to extremes

1

Calling them a doomsayer would be appropriate. You could also say they are prone to doomsaying.

one given to forebodings and predictions of impending calamity

1

If it is a neurotic tendency and not a style of argumentation, perhaps it is catastrophization (yes, it's a word). Seeing not only the worst, but the unreasonable worst outcomes

See also A !Tangled Web by Joe Haldeman

0

I think you may use the expression specious argument

seeming to be right or true, but really wrong or false:

  • a specious argument/claim specious allegations/promises

(Cambridge Dictionary)

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  • 1
    These arguments are certainly specious, but the "specious" doesn't capture the histrionic nature of the argumentative technique. Mar 23, 2018 at 15:49
  • 3
    @MichaelStern - well, if you need a term that contains also a histrionic connotation, you should make that clear in your question.
    – user 66974
    Mar 23, 2018 at 16:03
-1

These kind of responses remind me of someone with fiery temper.

Which I suggest fiery response/argument.

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    That would be very thoughtful of you if you just told me the reason for downvoting. NOt JUST for my answer, you know. Thanks, and good luck downvoting.
    – haha
    Mar 24, 2018 at 13:22
-1

Belligerence:

Senior politicians use incredibly belligerent rhetoric that presents protest as a crime.

Also, in many relationships power struggles develop wherein one or both parties attempt to dominate the other psychologically, utilizing verbal abuse as a means to pressure their victims into submission, specifically with irrational leaps of logic, designed to terrorize them emotionally:

...there are six stages in the "escalation" or tension building stage...

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