The situation would be something like a student asking a teacher a question. The question isn't well worded, as the student doesn't fully understand the topic on which they're asking the question, and the teacher says the they don't understand the question. Or, the teach might say the question doesn't make sense, or it isn't clear. But to a knowledgeable person, the crux of the question seems clear. The student simply can't word the question well, because they don't understand the topic.

The "teacher" is simply trying to show the student doesn't know what they are talking about and the implication is the teacher knows more. For some reason the teacher doesn't explain and re-word the student's question for them.

It's a sort of pedantry. The teacher is more interested in showing they know more than the student rather than clarifying the question and explaining.

It puts a burden on the student to already know some topic before they can ask a question about it.

The question would be fairly basic. I'm not thinking of complicated questions which could legitimately require clarification.

  • 3
    Sounds like playing dumb. Dec 10, 2020 at 16:22
  • It would be clever to know the teacher's exact motivation, but the phrase brush someone off is applicable. Dec 10, 2020 at 16:22
  • 1
    A poorly worded question need not necessarily be naive. The body and the title of the question don't seem to match.
    – user405662
    Dec 10, 2020 at 16:30
  • 1
    @user405662, right, the question/er isn't dumb, it's the "teacher" making the questioner feel dumb, they're communicating "I'm smarter than you" to the questioner. Dec 10, 2020 at 16:33
  • 1
    @YosefBaskin With a bit more detail, that could be an answer.
    – Llewellyn
    Dec 10, 2020 at 18:09

2 Answers 2


"I don't know what you mean," the teacher said, disingenuously.

  • 1
    You beat me by a few seconds. It's a funny kind of disingenuousness, though, in that the goal is to establish pecking order as far as subject matter knowledge.
    – user888379
    Dec 10, 2020 at 16:39

I think gloat over fits the bill because there is an element of smugness involved (because as per the question— The teacher is simply trying to show the student doesn't know what they are talking about and the implication is the teacher knows more.)

to observe or think about something with triumphant and often malicious satisfaction, gratification, or delight

gloat over an enemy's misfortune [Merriam-Webster]

Similarly,you could say—

The teacher was gloating over the student's poor diction.

EDIT— I may be wrong but the title and the body of the question seem to me to be slightly at odds with each other. Hence, I'm suggesting a new answer but this one specifically applies to the title of the question (which I presume is what the question actually is), and might not satisfy all the requirements of the question as enunciated in the body

Play possum

  1. To pretend to be dead; to play dead (typically so a predatory animal will lose interest and leave one alone). A reference to the involuntary defense mechanism of the North American opossum.

If we encounter a bear in the woods, is it better to play possum or try to run?

  1. By extension, to pretend to be asleep, inactive, or unaware as a means of avoiding someone or something.

Josh just puts his head down and plays possum whenever the boss looks for someone to do a job for him. I played possum in my room when I heard my mom shouting about the broken lamp.

[The Free Dictionary]

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