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What is a word for someone who is experienced and wise, but who deliberately acts naïve?

I don’t intend it for sarcastic use; I’m trying to describe someone succeeding in making people think that that person truly is naïve.

Is there a word for this?

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14 Answers 14

60

I’d probably go for disingenuous: “Assuming a pose of naïveté to make a point or for deception.”

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  • 18
    Disingenuous is a great word, but by itself it just means insincere. You would need context to understand that it's meant to mean insincerely naive.
    – user13141
    Oct 6, 2011 at 13:10
  • 6
    I agree with @onomatomaniak. I don't like disingenuously naif, but disingenuous naivete works for me. Oct 6, 2011 at 18:20
  • 1
    @Andrew: Welcome to ELU, and thanks for the great answer! +1
    – Daniel
    Oct 6, 2011 at 20:43
  • This is what I was going to post, so +1 from me.
    – Maxpm
    Oct 10, 2011 at 4:07
58

Feigned ignorance is an expression used when someone pretends to be uninformed or unknowledgeable about something.

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You could call them faux naïf.

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  • 3
    This is accurate but somehow still sounds quite awkward to me.
    – user13141
    Oct 6, 2011 at 11:12
  • 2
    To be precise it should be naïf
    – nico
    Oct 6, 2011 at 11:18
  • And what's that letter called in between the 'a' and the 'f'?
    – Mark
    Oct 6, 2011 at 11:31
  • 5
    It is an "i" with diaeresis. The diaeresis is a mark to indicate that a new syllable begins. So it is Na-if, pronounced verys similarly to "naive" in english.
    – Ben
    Oct 6, 2011 at 11:53
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    @nico: I edited the word to make myself happy.
    – Daniel
    Oct 6, 2011 at 12:20
22

I would go with "Lt. Columbo".

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  • I like it! Probably there were other murder-mystery detectives who also used this technique.
    – GEdgar
    Oct 6, 2011 at 16:02
  • 1
    Nice. This will probably work on anyone born prior to 1982. :)
    – mskfisher
    Oct 6, 2011 at 18:19
  • @GEdgar: Well there is Shawn Spencer.
    – Kredns
    Oct 7, 2011 at 8:02
  • You don't think Shawn really is that lazy?
    – GEdgar
    Oct 7, 2011 at 14:37
  • Poirot used that device on occasion -- mostly taking advantage of English scorn for foreigners Oct 7, 2011 at 17:46
13

Depending on the context, you could consider hustler. This is the exact and precise word to use if someone is playing pool for money: they pretend to barely know the game, even lose a few small bets to you, then make a big bet and win dramatically. However, the word hustler has some other meanings, so if you try to apply to some context other than playing pool for money, it might be misinterpreted.

If the person’s reason for hiding their wisdom and experience is not to con or hustle you, then there is probably not a good single word for it. False, artificial, feigned or fake1 innocence, inexperience, or naïveté are probably the phrases you could use.


  1. Or faux, if saying it in French appeals to you.
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  • 1
    +1 for clarifying the appropriateness based on context. I also used hustler in my response to this similar question.
    – ajk
    Oct 6, 2011 at 16:08
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Coy - artfully or affectedly shy or reserved; slyly hesitant; coquettish.

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playing dumb

Defined in wiktionary.org as:

(idiomatic) To pretend to be slow-witted or lacking in specific knowledge, usually in order to avoid responsibility or to gain some advantage.

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The phrase a wolf in sheep's clothing may apply here. It refers to someone who pretends to be harmless and/or innocent when, in fact, they are not. It describes someone with an ulterior motive.

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I've hunted around a bit and found that "false naivety" is a common phrase for this. I haven't found a single word that has the same meaning however.

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A disingenue, particularly if you are intending to use this to describe a girl. Disingenuous is close, but not quite satisfactory. It does not denote a discrimination of its object, which would be a girl who attempts to appear innocent. This is the opposite of an ingenue, defined as an "innocent, unworldly girl".

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Perhaps sandbagger would also be appropriate.

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2

Another pop culture reference (with a connotation for more flamboyance or outlandishness) would be Zaphod Beeblebrox. Quoting the source:

“One of the major difficulties Trillian experienced in her relationship with Zaphood was learning to distinguish between him pretending to be stupid just to get people off their guard, pretending to be stupid because he couldn't be bothered to think and wanted someone else to do it for him, pretending to be outrageously stupid to hide the fact that he actually didn’t understand what was going on, and really being genuinely stupid. He was renowned for being amazingly clever and quite clearly was so—but not all the time, which obviously worried him, hence, the act. He preferred people to be puzzled rather than contemptuous.”

― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Wikipedia further summarizes his related talents by saying:

He was briefly the President of the Galaxy (a role that involves no power whatsoever, and merely requires the incumbent to attract attention so no one wonders who's really in charge, a role for which Zaphod was perfectly suited).

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This person is more commonly known as a "player".

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A darker definition is duplicitous which, whilst you may not associate it with the normal meaning and context for wise, could certainly describe the act of deceitful naivety.

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