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Saw this on reddit:

A: I'm a gun owner and I think any sort of gun sticker on a vehicle is cringe.

-> B: Ditto any sort of camo, esp. grey/urban camo prints, sure go ahead and tell the world you're itching for an excuse to defend yourself with a gun while you wait for your latte

-> -> C: But the hunting community uses camo! Do you think hunters are looking to kill people?

Etc, where C continued to belabor the edge case.

Now, to me, C misunderstood what B was saying and just continued to argue when it was clear that B didn't think that hunters were included in the group that they were talking about.

It feels like C went out of their way to think that B was saying something about ALL people who wear camo -- but to me unless someone says "ALL ___" they just mean "in general the people who ____".

Is there a term for "deliberately misunderstanding what someone said so that you can argue about it"? I see it all the time in forums/reddit/insta. Strawmanning doesn't seem adequate -- that's more about mischaracterizing someone's point so you can dismiss it.

My best attempt at this is "reaching for outrage" but I've never heard any say that.

7
  • Perhaps a logical or informal fallacy, for example Quoting out of context. Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 20:17
  • "It feels like B went out of their way to think that B was saying something . . ." <-- Is there a typo here? Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 21:29
  • Always feels like a trickster distorted or twisted my words. Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 22:05
  • Philosophy is a good place to ask for the names of different types of arguments and fallacies.
    – Barmar
    Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 22:58
  • yes that was a typo @MarcInManhattan
    – jcollum
    Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 23:24

4 Answers 4

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I'm taking it that the OP is referring to someone (C) who correctly understands what their adversary B means, but C deliberately responds as if B had meant something else.

This is the "straw man" fallacy.

Alternatively, you could say that C misrepresented B.

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  • I think OP wrote that 'straw man' isn't what they are looking for. Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 12:53
  • Right, I did and explained why. Faux outrage (another answer) explains it better.
    – jcollum
    Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 15:33
  • also misconstrue. (Though the online definitions don't learn as much towards deliberately misconstrue as I personally understand the typical connotation.)
    – stevesliva
    Commented Sep 9, 2023 at 23:43
1

The term "faux outrage" (or, less often, "faux indignation") might be suitable. Most of the Wikipedia page on "outrage" discusses this. Wordnik does not define the term but has a page with examples. Dictionary.com provides the following example from The Daily Beast:

From righteous fury to faux indignation, everything we got mad about in 2014—and how outrage has taken over our lives.

Faux outrage doesn't need to involve "deliberately misunderstanding", but otherwise I think that it's a good fit for what you're describing.

1

As a formal fallacy, ignoratio elenchi fits it most closely - "substituting for a certain issue another which is more or less closely related to it and arguing the substituted issue." (Davies, Arthur Ernest, A Text-Book of Logic (1915), quoted in the Wikipedia article).

0

I'd consider the phrase "deliberately obtuse," which is one I find myself reaching for often in such discussions. Consider the Cambridge Dictionary definition of "obtuse":

stupid and slow to understand, or unwilling to try to understand: The answer's obvious - or are you being deliberately obtuse?

This term does not capture the "arguing part" but it does capture the "going out of your way to not understand what someone is saying to you" part.

More literally, you could describe this behavior as "willfully misunderstanding" someone, which is a well-attested phrase. For instance, here is a news article:

But State Rep. Anne Stava Murray, D-Naperville, accused Mendrick of “willfully misunderstanding the law” and “creating straw man arguments” not to enforce the law.

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