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Background

Sometimes I see the term "actively mislead", but I am not confident when it is implied that something was done intentionally to deceive. A previous question here asked Does "mislead" imply intent? which received a mix of perspectives, but the most upvoted and accepted answer argued: not necessarily. I want to ask about a phrasing that seems potentially stronger in its connotation: "actively misleading".

Examples

Might they be actively misleading readers?

Everything else is a waste of time, visual space, and is actively misleading.

At worst formalizing sampling intensity in terms of probability theory actively misleads about nature of sample size and population size.

Your plot -- although not actively misleading -- nevertheless doesn't do justice to all the fine structure of your data.

However this is at best an oversimplification and at worst actively misleading.

Many more can be found:

Search Effort

I tried querying all the main online dictionaries, but no returns.

Question

When does "actively mislead" entail an intent to deceive?

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    I’m voting to close this question because four pages of examples test the reader's patience. May 20 at 14:19
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    @YosefBaskin, given that so many questions on this site are closed every day on the ground that they do not display enough preliminary research, it is likely to be confusing to inexperienced contributors to see a question being closed on the ground that the OP has done too much research.
    – jsw29
    May 23 at 16:26

2 Answers 2

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Actively mislead can certainly suggest intent; its range of meaning is visible in the definition of actively (Oxford English Dictionary, "actively, adv.," def. 1).

  1. By one's own action; voluntarily, deliberately; spontaneously; positively. Opposed to passively.

Deliberately suggests intent, and similarly actively commonly suggests intent. (Someone often intends to do what they do.) Many of the examples in the question fit that usage, e.g.,

Might they be actively misleading readers?

That said, actively is opposed to passively, not innocently. It is possible for someone to bring a situation about by one's own action without intending to bring that situation about, as through ignorance or neglect. For example, from your examples:

The name bin_digits is actively misleading: it does not contain the binary digits.

The name bin_digits cannot intend to mislead. Nor can we know if the person who named the file intended to mislead. In any case, the name misleads actively, that is, the name contains incorrect information that leads people to an incorrect conclusion.

Less trivially, in this example, the writer may make a choice that happens to actively mislead readers, but it isn't clear that the writer intended to deceive; they were likely sloppy in formatting, but the formatting had what the speaker considers to be an active role in misleading them:

If you just write some consecutive paragraphs of text and put a bullet point in front of every one of them, you are actively misleading me, because your layout tells me I can skip around, while the content should be read in order.

As a matter of precise style, I'm not happy with actively mislead. The usual sense is strong or even accusatory. However, if even file names and data can actively mislead, then deliberative action or intent isn't the sole way the phrase can be used. Actively can act almost like explicitly or even very, an intensifier for how misled someone felt they were.

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    OP looks up everything apart from 'actively', which is arguably and probably key. May 20 at 15:08
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    @EdwinAshworth I agree. I simply didn't think of it at the time. I suspect that a term composed of multiple words can have a meaning that isn't well-understood by decomposing it into the meaning of the individual words, but checking such a decomposition would often be fruitful.
    – Galen
    May 20 at 16:54
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    @Galen Dictionaries are far better than they used to be at including compound nouns, and these may or may not, as you say, be compositional. The dividing lines between open compound nouns and strong collocations constitute an area for doctoral research, but close collocations are given in collocation dictionaries. May 20 at 18:37
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Mislead is a euphemism for lie. It always suggests an intent to deceive, but does not entail it logically, since human intention is not a logical conclusion (the way the truth of She killed him entails the truth of He is dead), but rather a pragmatic judgement on the part of the speaker, whoever that may be, and in whatever circumstances they may find themself.

The various opinions cited in the OQ merely reflect the idea that a legal phrase which may be uttered by an attorney in court -- on either side -- has in and of itself an entailment of the intentions of the speaker. That's a matter for a jury, not a dictionary.

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    With all due respect, mislead is not a euphemism for lie. Lying involves uttering a falsehood, while one can mislead someone (lead the person to believe something false) by saying things that are all, strictly speaking, true, but have false implicatures. In other words, lying is a matter of semantics, while misleading is a matter of pragmatics.
    – jsw29
    May 20 at 15:14
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    @jsw29 Instead of an euphemism, mislead could be taken as a synonym for lie.
    – Galen
    May 20 at 17:00
  • That's true of all euphemisms. May 20 at 17:45
  • @JohnLawler Re: That's true of all euphemisms. Sorry, I missed what you were responding to. What is true of all euphemisms?
    – Galen
    May 20 at 18:47
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    A euphemism is a socially acceptable synonym for some taboo word or activity. May 20 at 19:26

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