What do you call it when someone uses smart and intelligent but wrong statements to strengthen their argument?


Sophistry is

The use of clever but false arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving.

This seems to fit your definition.



A 'specious argument' is one that is empty, false or incorrect.



  • I had hoped to discourage another 'specious' answer to virtually the same question as in previous threads, by giving it in a 'comment' rather than as an 'answer'. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 6 '19 at 16:11
  • Well, 'specious' is about the best word that I know, to answer this question. And seeing as how putting answers in comments doesn't result in... answered questions, what is the point of answering questions in comments? @Edwin Ashworth – Jelila Oct 6 '19 at 16:16
  • Or, almost even worse... not answering them ✨ – Jelila Oct 6 '19 at 16:17
  • We're supposed to do housekeeping on ELU; the ultimate aim is to build up a repository of good analysis / practice, not be a Q and A service that generates so many duplications that the repository is useless as a reference. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 6 '19 at 16:21
  • Well, is it a duplicate, or not? An answered duplicate is presumably better than an unanswered duplicate, in that it might actually... help somebody. Sorry I am not genius in housekeeping. 🙏🏻 – Jelila Oct 6 '19 at 16:31

Sophistry, as found by DJClayworth, is what you're looking for, but I think bullsh*t is another acceptable answer.


All definitions are from Merriam-Webster. Words for this include shrewd

b : given to wily and artful ways or dealing

Or wily

: full of wiles : crafty

Or crafty

2a : adept in the use of subtlety and cunning

Or slick

1b : having surface plausibility or appeal : glossy

2a : characterized by subtlety or nimble wit : clever

Or cunning

1 : dexterous or crafty in the use of special resources (such as skill or knowledge) or in attaining an end

2 : characterized by wiliness and trickery

3 : prettily appealing : cute

4 : displaying keen insight

Or sly

2a : clever in concealing one's aims or ends

Or clever, in a context where it implies dishonesty

2 : marked by wit or ingenuity

Or manipulative, from manipulate

b : to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one's own advantage

Casuistry can mean either a form of theological reasoning about ethics, or, more often:

2 : specious argument : rationalization

This is sometimes applied to specific, extant religious orders, but that would be considered offensive. Apologetics is also sometimes used neutrally as theological terms, but in other contexts, has a negative connotation of a lawyerly defense of the indefensible. An apologia can mean this too, but sometimes has a positive connotation.

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