The aim is to find a technical/academic jargon (likely multiple syllables) to describe the act of following the law to a fault. Even the phrase "to a fault" doesn't quite get at the valance I'm after, it's more about applying the law where it may technically be applicable but fails to account for crucial context. The idiom: "Aside from your husband, what did you think about the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" comes to mind.

Consider the sentence:

As the theater burned, the gentleman threw a bouquet of flowers onto the stage for the actors. The gentleman is said to exhibit ________ behavior.

I initially considered "irrational" or "abnormal" here, but his actions would be rational and normal in any other setting. So these two choices don't capture the emphasis I'm looking for.

  • It is not clear what sort of emphasis you are looking for, anyway his behavior could range from eccentric to irresponsible I think.
    – user 66974
    Mar 9 at 5:44
  • @user66974 Right. Well, the emphasis is on the contrast between ignoring the crucial context and doing the formulaic thing that would otherwise be normal Mar 9 at 6:44
  • To my mind "to a fault" and "one- dimensional" are not demonstrated by the example. It is therefore unclear what you are looking for.
    – Greybeard
    Mar 9 at 11:02
  • Why necessarily resort to a single-word? It sounds like a pretty nuanced notion, and more words might work more magic than just one: Consider, perhaps, "compulsive formality", "Indulging in norm-compliance..." or whatever else you fancy along such lines...
    – m.a.a.
    Mar 9 at 12:43
  • Is this ignorance (can't see the forest for the trees)? Or willful ignorance (to the letter)? Perhaps you could construct an actual academic-context sentence with a fill-in-the-blank. Mar 9 at 18:56

2 Answers 2


As the theater burned, the gentleman threw a bouquet of flowers onto the stage for the actors. The gentleman is said to exhibit incongruous behavior.

Incongruous (adj.)

Disagreeing or inconsistent with the circumstances or requirements of the case, or with what is reasonable or becoming; unbecoming, unsuitable, inappropriate, absurd, out of place.

Appearing strange or wrong within a particular situation

Like many cognitive psychologists, Weems highlights the role of incongruity in jokes, how punchlines take us by surprise: "We laugh at what forces us to integrate incompatible goals or ideas that lead to confusion, doubt, and embarrassment." As an example, he offers the one-liner, "Other than that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?"
William Costanzo; When the World Laughs (2020)

  • 2
    Although not an exact fit to the specification, this is a good approach to the answer and I do not understand why someone has casually voted it down without any explanation. I have therefore compensated. The words "crass" and "insensitive" come to mind both as possibilities for the answer and for the voting down.
    – Anton
    Mar 9 at 11:47

Perhaps 'stringent' could work:

  • rigorously binding or exacting; strict; severe:
    stringent laws.
  • compelling, constraining, or urgent:
    stringent necessity.

This can work in different contexts: when, e.g., someone strictly adheres to social convention—such as wanting to shake the hand of a surgeon in the middle of an operation—one could call that 'social stringency' or 'socially stringent'.
Your example sentence displays more of a 'customary stringency'.

An alternative to consider is 'rigid' ("a rigid adherence to custom").
More positive ones include 'unwavering' and 'unyielding', as these emphasize a strength of will and resoluteness, rather than an inflexible stance in any given situation.

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