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Edit: There used to be a quote Winston Churchill here that I attempted to use to provide an example of multiple interpretations. This lead to more confusion so I chose to remove it. It still exists in the edits if you're curious, but the example below is a better example of what I'm trying to ask.

What is another word/phrase for the phrase disingenuous interpretation that also insinuates an unnecessarily malicious interpretation of an event, quote, or situation?

I'll explain the context using Alice and Bob:

  • An event occurred involving Alice
  • The event is interpreted by Bob to have occurred due to Alice's malice
  • Alice is confronting Bob about the unnecessarily negative interpretation of the event

If in the example above, Alice confronts Bob and says "That was a maliciously disingenuous interpretation", it could communicate that that Bob was being malicious with their inaccurate interpretation. What I'm hoping for is a word/phrase that communicates The interpretation of the event was (unnecessarily) malicious.

Asked another way...

  • A genuine interpretation is an accurate interpretation of the events
  • A disingenuous is an inaccurate interpretation
  • A generous interpretation assumes good faith
  • A ________ interpretation assumes bad faith
3
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Jul 29 at 0:14
  • 4
    "Disingenuous" does not mean "inaccurate". If someone is being disingenuous, it means they are, deliberately, concealing the truth.
    – psmears
    Jul 29 at 13:50
  • In somewhat informal speech, "spin" can mean a motivated interpretation. Jul 29 at 20:56

11 Answers 11

17

Uncharitable is another word which might be used to describe someone interpreting something in the worst possible way.

: lacking in charity : severe in judging : HARSH

See for instance this example collected from M-W:

An uncharitable read would be to suggest that riding with Rigsby is like hitting the gym with a sentient BuzzFeed quiz.

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34

"Disingenuous" already implies maliciousness (deceit, underhandedness, etc): https://www.google.com/search?q=disingenuous That is, it is already inaccurate with intent.

You need a better phrase for what you have (erroneously) posited as "disingenuous". I suggest starting with what you have:

  • inaccurate interpretation

Any good thesaurus will help you here as "inaccurate" is a single, common word and not the obscure phrase usual to this wiki.

And to be clear, what you have listed as a disingenuous/inaccurate interpretation of Churchill's statement is actually a fairly faithful understanding, barring possibly how quantifiably heroic said action may be implied to be.

Hope this helps. English is a beast.

EDIT:

I think there is some confusion due to the apparent root of the word. "Genuous" (not a word) sounds like "genuine". The word "ingenuous" derives its meaning from that, but does not mean "genuine" -- it means sincere or candid with a connotation of naïvety -- a complete lack of guile or ill will.

Something that is dis-ingenuous implies a lack of authenticity BOTH in content (it is a dissimulation if not a straight-up lie) AND in intent (the purpose of the preverification is not altruistic).

The weirdness of these words (ingenuous, disingenuous) and the tendency people have to mix it up with ingenious) are IMHO the main reasons they appear so rarely, and often only in the context of someone insulting or calling-out another for their misrepresentations by using big vocabulary from an "I'm smarter/better educated than you" position (whether unassumingly factual or boastful).

If your goal is to be clear and avoid confusing people, don't use these words.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Jul 29 at 0:14
19

Mean-spirited

Having or characterized by a malicious or petty spirit.

A mean-spirited interpretation assumes the worst of someone, especially in a petty way. To me, it means someone is looking for the most negative way to spin something.

I agree with Dúthomhas that ‘disingenuous’ captures the intentionally dishonest aspect you’re looking for, but I think ‘mean-spirited’ emphasizes the maliciousness a bit more and has different tone.

1
  • 1
    "Mean-spirited" also functions well as the opposite of "generous", to which it is opposed in the question.
    – Stuart F
    Jul 29 at 14:12
14

cynical

A cynical interpretation assumes bad faith.

From Merriam-Webster:

contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives

… those cynical men who say that democracy cannot be honest and efficient. — Franklin D. Roosevelt

From Collins:

cynical implies a contemptuous disbelief in human goodness and sincerity

distrustful or contemptuous of virtue, esp selflessness in others; believing the worst of others, esp that all acts are selfish

Example of usage (the least controversial that I could find; Journal Star):

According to the National Day Calendar, National Cotton Candy Day was the result of collaboration between confectioner John C. Wharton and dentist William Morrison.

A cynical interpretation of the creation of National Cotton Candy Day in 1897 would be that Morrison was looking to pad his bank account…

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  • 1
    This was going to be my answer. There's a well known very cynical quote, "you can always tell when a politician is lying. His lips are moving."
    – nigel222
    Jul 28 at 12:37
10

Disingenuous already implies bad faith.

It means:

lacking in frankness, candor, or sincerity; falsely or hypocritically ingenuous; insincere. (Dictionary.com)

My answer is a frame-challenge to your question:

  • That facts around an event are independent of an interpreter's intent
  • A generous or charitable interpretation assumes good faith, and seeks truth. These may still be inaccurate, with lack of factual information or with simple misunderstanding.
  • A disingenuous or dishonest interpretation assumes bad faith and has an agenda. These could be considered malicious, and likely purposefully inaccurate.

There's no need for a new option because you're already using the correct one, assuming Bob is indeed being dishonest and acting in bad-faith.

Bob's interpretation was disingenuous.

2
  • frame-challenge? Is that IT? How about challenge how you frame the question? More elegant....
    – Lambie
    Jul 27 at 17:09
  • @Lambie Yes, I've challenged the frame of the question...
    – Jason_c_o
    Jul 27 at 17:27
4

Why not simply a negative interpretation ?

The example you give remains rather unfocused, so it could be a vilifying interpretation, or a disparaging one.

0
3

Malevolent, Malignant

you got me going there and had me thinking that disingenuous was innocent and naive! But it's not, as others have pointed out well. I know you were not doing it on purpose. Conniving. Or malingering.

So your two opposites then might be genuous, whose etymology means native, born from and means noble or artless, innocent.

And then you need the opposite of that.

How about malevolent - which literally means bad will or bad intent? Or malignant, which means 'born from ill intent'.

Malignant etymology wicked, bad-natured," from male "badly" (see mal-) + -gnus "born," from gignere "to bear, beget" (from PIE root *gene- "give birth, beget").

https://www.etymonline.com/word/malignant

3

I might say "You're being intentionally obtuse".

Obtuse in this context means "annoyingly insensitive or slow to understand." It can be used just to indicate stupidity but you can also be intentionally or willfully obtuse, for example when you pretend to fail to understand or care about a key part of an opponent's political argument and come away with a hilariously evil interpretation of their actions and motivations.

2

I'd add wilful misinterpretation as an answer.

Example: "That is a wilful misinterpretation of my position", or "you have wilfully misinterpreted my position".

1

Both Alice and Bob know that Bob's interpretation is false.

Because Bob knows that it is false, and thus it isn't simply a habitual reaction stemming from a negative world view, Bob's interpretation cannot be called cynical. Because it involves a particular target, it isn't misanthropic, as such.

One these two (or both) possibilities present themselves:

  1. Bob is communicating this false interpretation to people other than Alice. The intent is to damage Alice's reputation, and so Bob is engaging in slander. His interpretation, as communicated toward the public, is slanderous. That's a useful word for deliberate, malicious, disingenuous communication designed to bring an undeserved ill-regard onto someone.

  2. Bob is communicating this interpretation toward Alice. This would have to be part of some sort of psychological game. It's hard to come up with a precise word because of the convoluted ways in which that could be playing out and their nuances, but overall, Bob is being, or tying to be manipulative. Maybe Bob was trying to goad Alice into switching to defensive behavior, or to gaslight Alice into believing that her behavior looks malicious to all other people. That sort of thing.

-1

One need look no further than arguing couples to discover the sophisticated gem of linguistic expression which you so dutifully seek: instead of saying "that's a disingenuous interpretation", you can simply shout "that's not what I meant and you know it, you (explitive deleted)!"

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