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Other expressions for “to be the devil's advocate”?

Given the definition: "the adoption of an ostensibly defensible position, less because one actually believes in it than for the sake of ruffling feathers," what word springs handily to mind?

marked as duplicate by aedia λ, Matt E. Эллен, kiamlaluno, Mitch, MetaEd Sep 7 '12 at 8:52

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  • Thanks for the reference, though "devil's advocate" is something different. What I'm looking for often takes the form of what I might describe as specious activism: e.g., vociferously demanding this or that change, perhaps in opposition even to a majority viewpoint, and casting oneself as an advocate for an ostensibly marginalized minority, yet in fact motivated not so much by a humanitarian concern as rage against the values of said majority. And it could be that I'm asking a little much of any one word. :-) – Rick Mar 21 '12 at 19:24
  • It sounds like you want contrary with a touch of reactionary thrown in as well, perhaps. – dang Mar 12 '15 at 17:26

You might look at

contrary adj
perversely inclined to disagree or to do the opposite of what is expected or desired: she is sulky and contrary where her work is concerned.

  • "Contrary" might do, though though there's a nuance of pretended innocence in the meaning I'm trying to convey that I'm not sure is quite there with this one. – Rick Mar 21 '12 at 19:10

adversarial - pertaining to or characterized by antagonism and conflict

  • "Adversarial" is a great word, but I think what I'm after is possibly a little less overt. – Rick Mar 21 '12 at 19:06
  • @Rick: I think most alternatives will probably either fail to convey much hostility/contentiousness at all (they'll simply mean "adopts a negative/contrary position"), or will tend to imply more aggression than you probably want. – FumbleFingers Mar 21 '12 at 19:15

Oppositional (adj) came to mind. Also the phrase arguing for the sake of arguing.

And some of those people might call themselves a devil's advocate. As this link shows, however, a devil's advocate takes a position he or she doesn't necessarily agree with for the sake of argument (not for the sake of ruffling feathers). The purpose of playing devil's advocate is to test the validity of the other side's arguments.


It seems like a noun is being called for. - stridency?


I started out with argumentative but found:

polemical : aggressive in verbal attack; disputatious

disputatious : Inclined to argue or debate; provoking debate.

I'd also add that while perhaps not done for the same reasons as you have cited, to play devil's advocate requires taking and arguing a contrary position- but with a purpose of evaulating an issue from all sides rather than just being polemical.


A relevant meaning of stickler is "One who is extremely fussy or particular; one who insists on precision or correctness". (An irrelevant meaning of it is "A referee in a Cornish wrestling bout".) Note that the described kind of person may be a stickler, but a stickler is not necessarily trying to ruffle feathers. Anyhow, I might also refer to such a person as bristly, prickly, spiny, or starchy, or more figuratively (but closer in spirit) as a kerfuffler.

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