I am trying to find the name of the rhetorical device used in the following (deliberately absurd) example:

John says that he believes in motherhood and apple pie.
In my experience many people who say that suffer from an Oedipus complex [although I am sure that this does not apply in his case].

The clause in brackets is optional, but, when included, is clearly ironic and/or insincere as the intent is to ascribe an Oedipus complex to “John” by subconscious or psychological association.

This is not the same as guilt by association/the association fallacy which relates to a logical fallacy that might be used in an argument. Here one can even state that this is not the conclusion the audience should draw, when in fact one is suggesting the idea in the hope they will make the (false) conclusion. It is a device of rhetoric, not of logic.

I find it quite difficult to search for this kind of thing. I tried other questions tagged with ‘rhetoric’, and the Wikipedia list of rhetorical devices, where the closest thing seemed to be innuendo. Is there anything more specific?

  • 3
    Does this answer your question? Does this logical fallacy have a name? Guilt by association Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 12:58
  • This situation has nothing to do intrinsically with guilt, fallacies don't, they involve mere logic; therefore I voted for the reopening.
    – LPH
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 15:32
  • Fallacies often rely on imputing guilt and otherwise denigrating the opponent. You may be confusing a formal fallacy (a flaw in logic) with an informal fallacy (a method of arguing using everyday language that is incorrect or misleading).
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 17:32
  • Is the question referring to the ironic "although I am sure that this does not apply in his case", which is one type of rhetorical technique (apophasis), or the device of irrelevantly imputing an Oedipus complex to an opponent, which is just an ad hominem (name-calling).
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 17:35
  • @StuartF — Although the particular real-world example I have in mind does not include the irony you mention, but apophasis is perhaps closer to the spirit of it than any other suggestion. I suspect that there is no formal term for this particular device. A pity. There was a series in the Financial Times a while back about rhetorical devices that I somehow missed. Wish I'd paid more attention, but my days of standing on soap boxes are long gone.
    – David
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 21:38

1 Answer 1


A term that has been increasingly used in the recent past and that is still in current use is "sweeping generalization"; it's found often enough in mathematical literature, but it is much more widely applicable.

enter image description here

It is recognized specifically as a technical term naming the type of fallacy in question.

(Firmitas) Logical fallacy: Sweeping generalization

An argument is constructed in which a simplistic general rule is assumed to be more widely true, therefore an exception is ignored.

Its form

  • Some X are Y.
  • Therefore all X are Y.

(Some or many people like that suffer from an Oedipus complex. Therefore all people like that suffer from this complex, and John, being like that, also must be afflicted with one.)

  • "Everyone generalizes from one example. At least, I do."
    – user888379
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 15:02
  • @user888379 Not necessarily; it is clear that according to the reference I posted more than a single case is allowed: the word "some" makes that clear.
    – LPH
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 15:28
  • That's the problem with sweeping generalizations...
    – user888379
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 15:44
  • @user888379 There is no such problem. Here is a simple situation that would not cause the most innocent of mathematicians to stumble but which, in its essence give the clue. Suppose that basic calculations show to some student that 4|(2x+4) for x=2,4,6,8,… The very young student may hastily conclude that for all x>1 the relation is true. It is in fact the examination of more than one case that gives the false inference some sort of (false) logical legitimity.
    – LPH
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 16:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.