In common parlance, we say "s/he pretends s/he doesn't understand", for people who ignore the context of the conversation and require hyper-specific definitions to keep the conversation going.

(hyper-simplified) example of the above, in the form of a dialogue:

Q: Hey, how's your day?

A: In what sense?

Q: Uh, let's say for the sake of argument, how's work?

A: What do you mean by that? In terms of what?

Q: What are you up to?

A: I do lot's of stuff, you have to be more specific - is there something in particular you're interested in?

Q: Nope just in general, are you enjoying it?

A: Sorry I don't understand, define "enjoying it" in the context of work

and so on...

Is there a term for what the person (A) is doing?

  • from ChatGPT: "The behavior exhibited by person A in the dialogue you provided can be described as "demanding precision" or "insisting on explicit definitions." While there may not be a specific term that captures this exact practice in every context, these descriptions convey the idea that person A is seeking detailed and specific clarification or elaboration from their interlocutor. This behavior can sometimes be perceived as pedantic or overly nitpicky, as it focuses on dissecting and narrowing down the meaning of statements rather than engaging in a more open and fluid conversation."
    – Yannis
    Commented May 23, 2023 at 14:10
  • Are you focusing on the argumentative quality? That's the result of not answering any question that doesn't meet personal demands. Commented May 23, 2023 at 14:17
  • 2
    Does this answer your question? Is there a word/phrase for "deliberately failing to understand a concept being explained"? // A hypernym is pedantry. And the person is being fastidious. Over-fastidious. Commented May 23, 2023 at 14:35
  • 1
    You can pretend to know nothing as a pedagogic tool (the Socratic Method), as deliberate deflection to avoid acknowledging the truth (as in the linked question), or just to be annoying.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 23, 2023 at 16:13
  • 1
    @JohnLawler "It's turtles all the way down." Commented May 24, 2023 at 15:11

1 Answer 1


You could say person A is feigning ignorance or being deliberately obtuse. Both of these imply that person A actually does understand the question, but is merely pretending to not know what the asker means even when they use very plain language. It doesn't necessarily imply a long line of follow-up questions, but does capture the repeated insistence that the asker can't be understood.

  • It should, perhaps, be added that the person in the example is deliberately obtuse to the pragmatics of 'How's your day?', 'What are you up to?', etc. The person's requests for precision are OK if one focuses on semantics alone, and would be perfectly apt in some alternative civilisation in which 'How's your day?', etc. are not established moves in small talk.
    – jsw29
    Commented May 23, 2023 at 16:40

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