There's a word I remember looking up but can't remember. Something like:

When someone says something that's insulting but when you call them out on it, they pretend they don't know what was said was insulting. Instead, they argue that they meant it in a different context when they really didn't.

For example:

A: "Wow he's smart"
B: "What do you mean he's smart?"
A: "What? I meant they're very intelligent."


7 Answers 7


I think dissimulate would work:

verb (used with object), dis·sim·u·lat·ed, dis·sim·u·lat·ing.

to disguise or conceal under a false appearance; dissemble: to dissimulate one's true feelings about a rival.

verb (used without object), dis·sim·u·lat·ed, dis·sim·u·lat·ing.

to conceal one's true motives, thoughts, etc., by some pretense; speak or act hypocritically.

In your example A is dissimulating. or alternatively you could use the synonym in the definition, A is dissembling.

But if you are looking for an adjective rather than a verb, you could say the person is disingenous -- in the sense of falsely or hypocritically ingenuous.

adj lacking in frankness, candor, or sincerity; falsely or hypocritically ingenuous; insincere: Her excuse was rather disingenuous.


It's a form of verbal plausible deniability.

The first sentence ("Wow, he's smart") is said with enough tone and inflection to imply sarcasm, yet the literal contents of the sentence, the words, are innocuous enough. It leaves the speaker with the possibility of denying the insult implied by tone. That is, any denial of the intention to cause offence is plausible or believable.

  • I've seen this used in politics and espionage; I am not sure it is suitable for petty office bickering. Commented Oct 25, 2018 at 12:57

Obtuse? It's often used in the phrase "deliberately obtuse".

See the example in definition 1 from the Oxford English Dictionary:

Annoyingly insensitive or slow to understand.
‘he wondered if the doctor was being deliberately obtuse’

Source: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/obtuse

  • ... but this only works when "deliberately" is in front of it. Otherwise, this is the opposite of what OP is looking for. Someone who is obtuse is not feigning ignorance.
    – user91988
    Commented Oct 25, 2018 at 21:38

I believe these will do.


  1. Assuming a pose of naïveté to make a point or for deception.


  1. Given to or marked by deliberate deceptiveness in behavior or speech.



I think you are describing passive-aggressive behavior.

Passive–aggressive behavior is characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation.

Here's a description of one of the symptoms of passive-aggressive behavior:

On the other extreme, insincere compliments are a very sneaky way to throw in some nasty insults. They are hoping that you will react badly to the insult. The intention being that if you say anything about the cheap insult, they will tell you that you misinterpreted them, and they were only trying to pay you a compliment. Then you doubt yourself and, if anyone else was present, your behaviour looks unreasonable.


Ignorance is the act of ignoring, not unknowing. One is ignorant when he has learned and chooses to ignore. Dumb means lacking intelligence. Stupid typifies one does not know or has not yet learned.

So, why would one pretend (feign) to ignore in an effort to appear innocent? Seems to me the correct phrase would be feigning innocence, not ignorance.

www.merriam-webster.com › dictionary › ignorant

www.merriam-webster.com › dictionary › dumb

  • The dictionary definition of ignorance doesn't support the narrow definition you've applied. Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 11:54

Gaslighting. A tactic people use to rewrite history, change what actually happened in reality to manipulate someone, causing them to question their own reality and to believe the other person’s false reality.

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