That is to say, if someone were to say "It's not grey, it's dark white." or "It's not racist, it's just a racially specific insult"

What term would one use to describe that? I'm certain there's a word for it, but I just can't seem to think of it.

  • It's maybe a subtype of sophistry/casuistry/hair-splitting, but you want something more specific? Please provide more details.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 25 at 9:00
  • 1
    One man's precisionist language is another man's nitpicking. Commented Jun 25 at 10:46

1 Answer 1


This refers to semantic arbitrary interpretation, which is not quite what one might call semantic nitpicking, and there is probably no single-word term to describe it; there is however one expression that describes this behaviour precisely enough.

  • play with words/language

M-W play with words/language idiom
to use words that sound similar or that have several different meanings especially in a clever or funny way

  • Alexander of Aphrodisias, On the Conversion of Propositions — Thomas Auffret, ‎Jonathan Barnes, ‎Marwan Rashed · 2024) The argument may be set against an earlier passage in On Fate where Alexander considers the relation between chance and fatalism. He thinks that fatalism rules out chance and fortune. Some people, he says, have thought to reconcile chance and fate by saying that for something to come about by chance is for it to come about from 'a cause unclear to human calculation […]'[…]—that is to say, they offer an epistemic account of chance. What do such people do? 'They legislate that the name of chance shall apply to something else' […]. 'They cozen themselves and their readers' […]. All they do is 'introduce and legislate some private sense for 'chance" […].
    Alexander rejects the view of the cozeners. But he does not say: 'Aha, you are confusing epistemic chance with the genuine article'. That is to say, he does not think that there is something called epistemic chance, alongside genuine chance. Nor, of course, do the cozeners think that there are two sorts of chance, or that the word 'chance' has twso uses: their view is that 'by chance' simply means 'by an unknown cause'. That being so, it seems likely that Alexander took the same attitude in the case of those who joked about possibility. He does not say to them:'Ah, you are confusing epistemic possibility with genuine possibility'. He says: 'You are playing with words, introducing a new sense of your own for the word 'possible". That is to say, he does not think there are two sorts of possibility, the real and the epistemic, and he does not think that the Greek words for 'possible' bear two quite distinct senses. Nor, presumably, do the jokers think that there are two sorts of possibility: they think that possibility is simply a name for the unknown.

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