Related: Is there a word that means deliberately ignorant, choosing to ignore? - but this seems to be more about ignoring things around you (head in the sand and so on).

Let's say that Person A explains something to Person B. If Person B understands this concept then B will need to admit that they were wrong previously.

Obduracy seems close. Willful ignorance seems close.

I'm wondering if there's a better term for it.

  • Obstinacy seems to be fit. (Obstinate: unreasonably determined, especially to act in a particular way and not to change at all, despite what anyone else says:.) Commented May 20, 2018 at 17:25
  • Obdurate does not necessarily mean willful.
    – lbf
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 17:26
  • 1
    I don’t know what you mean :) (I would use “wilful ignorance”).
    – user184130
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 17:31
  • 5
    disingenuous comes close, but it specifically implies deliberately pretending to fail to understand - or to know [something]. Commented May 20, 2018 at 17:31
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers I think you should make disingenuous an answer.
    – user184130
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 20:57

6 Answers 6


I would use ‘abstruse’ which means ‘deliberately not understanding’.

Abstruse is perhaps best understood from its etymology - it means ‘to push away, to hide’ in Latin, and is the word I have most heard in spoken English conversations (I am English) to mean ‘deliberately not understanding’, or ‘making a thing of not understanding’. Online definitions of the word don’t capture its meaning very well - they say it means ‘esoteric or unclear’ but it means more ‘pushing the meaning away’.

Here’s an example of it in use:

‘Sir! You told me the washing machine would arrive on Thursday and be fully installed!’

‘Madam! You are being abstruse - we clearly told you it would come with a box of bits you have to install yourself!’

Note: when you accuse someone of ‘being abstruse’, it carries the meaning of ‘deliberately not understanding’ - often for the person’s own gain (in this case, she doesn’t want to set up the washing machine herself).

Whereas ‘an abstruse mathematical formula’ would tend to mean ‘difficult to comprehend’.

Definition Abstruse: ‘Difficult to comprehend’ https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abstruse

Etymology Abstruse: https://www.google.co.id/search?q=etymology+abstruse&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en-id&client=safari

Another option is ‘obtuse’. This literally mean ‘off at an angle’ at an oblique angle - to the thing trying to be understood. It carries more of a sense of ‘being bone headed’ or just ‘not getting it’ than the deliberately obfuscating nature of ‘abstruse’.

Example: ‘When you say that you can’t simply put the key in the door, and open it, now, because someone else should be there to open it, you are being obtuse’.

Oh and then - obfuscating could also be good - it’s a verb that means ‘deliberately trying to hide the truth’. Putting obstacles in the way of the truth.

But abstruse is the most accurate for what you are looking for I feel.

  • 1
    I always enjoy your reading your explanations.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 20:49
  • 2
    I can't find anything to support "being abstruse" to mean deliberately not understanding. The source you provide says it means "hard to understand" (so one wouldn't have to pretend not to understand!)
    – user184130
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 23:40
  • 2
    On the other hand, "deliberately obtuse" might be appropriate.
    – user184130
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 23:40
  • The very first sentence of this answer is wrong (unless it refers to some obscure meaning that is not commonly included in dictionaries), and it gets worse from there. Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 19:37
  • 1
    Being 60 years old, having always excelled at English at school A++ and being English and born and grown up in England, I have an understanding of English that is innate. I am also the author of 7 books, 300 songs and 300 poems. The English you find in dictionaries is becoming an amalgam of 'common use on the internet'. That's why I like to go back to the etymology - original meaning and rely on my physical onionskin OED (a treasure which I recommend you buy).
    – Jelila
    Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 23:15


ob·tuse /əbˈt(y)o͞os,äbˈt(y)o͞os/

annoyingly insensitive or slow to understand. "he wondered if the doctor was being deliberately obtuse" (Google)


not quick or alert in perception, feeling, or intellect; not sensitive or observant; dull. (dictionary.com)

Obtuse is the way some is acting. They may not understand; however, when all evidence is to the contrary, they my be "deliberately obtuse". The difference is why it is happening.


So you're just being deliberately daft, got it.


Someone arrogant could be described as having those traits, however other words to describe someone purposefully showing disregard to rules could be something like disobedience or dereliction (deliberate or conscious neglect; negligence; delinquency: dereliction of duty.)

:) hope this is what you are looking for


Obtuse is from the Latin, dull or blunt. It can describe an angle that is not acute- an angle larger than 90° but less than 180°.

When applied to 'an understanding' of something, it means that the person's comprehension is 'at a wide angle' to the topic. Literally, they are coming at the topic from a different angle, an angle larger than 90° but less than 180°. At ... a slant.

You might hear people say 'you are being deliberately obtuse' - it means that you are coming at the subject from a different or atypical perspective, a different angle, at a tangent, and it also can mean you are choosing not to understand the topic as others understand or perceive it (usually for your own purposes).

It really means 'choosing to interpret the situation in a different way from others' - often for one's own ends, to one's own benefit.

Example: when I was working at a large hotel in Biarritz, I was obtuse and I decided to misunderstand their requirement for their chambermaid staff to literally run from room to room tidying and throwing the duvets onto the beds in order to earn whatever the salary was, and I pretended that I didn't understand that I had to work like a slave there. When they came and said 'oh giddy up' I was like 'oh yes sure' but actually, I was being obtuse - choosing not to understand. They did of course ultimately sack me, but my lack of understanding of their 'speed up' request was me being deliberately obtuse. They said 'you don't understand the job in hand' but I was silently saying 'well actually I understand it perfectly, I'm just not doing it'.

By the way, a person is not 'obtuse' themselves. It is their understanding or response to a situation that is obtuse (or 'off at a wide angle, at a tangent').

By the way, you can say they are 'being obtuse' - about a topic, but not 'you are obtuse' - unless you are trying to say that they disagree with absolutely everything that exists.

The online dictionary definitions of obtuse are to me, confusing, as they are taken from contextual uses of obtuse, and they don't really define it in the same way, as if you think of it as 'coming at topics from a wide angle'.

For example, I found these (which I find spurious):

  • not quick or alert in perception
  • stupid and slow to understand
  • lacking quickness or perception or intellect

Well yes maybe - if we are just coming directly from the original Latin meaning of 'dull'. But to me a more accurate way of thinking of it is 'off at an angle, off at a tangent - to the main argument or idea'.

When you call someone obtuse, I think the idea is to say that they are 'deliberately choosing a different or unusual point of view' - not that they're 'an idiot'.

Online you can also see 'if someone calls me obtuse, does it mean that they think I'm an idiot?' Well, I suppose it depends on 'how'!

(The answer is no, but it means they disagree with you, or have a more common point of view).


  • "That meaning is probably from confusion with the similar-sounding abstruse." -- and abstruse is the answer marked as an answer. "deliberately obtuse" vs "abstruse" -- they both work but abstruse is one word and more concise.
    – jcollum
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 20:02
  • Yes, @jcollum I agree
    – Jelila
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 2:33


You can use 'birches' to convey a group of birch trees.

As in, 'he stood silently, hidden among birches, waiting for her...'

Or 'walking off the road, he emerged from the birches, holding a letter...'

  • How does this answer the Question? The Question was to describe someone deliberately not understanding something.
    – Brandin
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 7:35
  • Oh great! here's my missing answer! it is supposed to answer a question about how to express a group of birch tress in just one word. Top marks to you, @Brandin for spotting that, indeed, it does not answer the question above. Or are you being obtuse/abstruse, sorry...
    – Jelila
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 2:36

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