Sometimes (well, often) people pretend not to understand what's going on (or pretend not to understand what the other person means, etc.) when in fact they do perfectly well.

For example, Person A is hoping that his friend Person B would let him crash at his place for a couple of days, but, so as not to appear too intrusive, he wants Person B to invite him instead of asking directly. So, he says to his friend:

Hey, Person B! I've just been kicked out of my house and I have nowhere to go. I really have to figure out where to stay the next couple of days.

Person B understands that Person A is hoping that he would offer him to stay at his place. But he chooses to pretend not to understand, and, instead of saying sorry and explaining why Person A cannot stay at his place, person B says:

There's a nice hotel near here, and it's not very expensive. I can give you the address.

Another example. Person B has secretly stolen the wallet of Person A. Person A has figured out that it was person B and when they meet, he says:

My wallet was stolen the other day.

Person B says:

Really? Oh, that's so unfortunate!

What idioms in English would one use to describe the behavior of Person B in the sample situations? I.e. pretending to be stupid or pretending not to understand something rather obvious, or pretending not to know something that you know; in other words, consciously imitating ignorance, indifference, or innocence.

In Russian, the idiom is to pretend to be a fire hose (прикидываться шлангом) or to pretend to be a boot (прикидываться валенком). The Armenian idiom is to pretend to be a donkey (իրեն էշի տեղ դնել). For me, these phrases are not quite unimaginative and cause a certain amount of amusement. I am hoping to find an English equivalent (or equivalents) that would be informal and/or sound funny(-ish), but that's not essential.

Naturally, I tried to look up the translation in the dictionary before asking, but to no avail, presumably because the phrases mentioned above are rather informal.

10 Answers 10


I'm not sure of any colorful idioms that could be English counterparts to what you mentioned. If someone behaved that way, I would probably say that she was:

  • playing dumb
  • feigning ignorance
  • being deliberately obtuse
  • 8
    Feigning ignorance is certainly my favourite of all of these. Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 22:07
  • in my experience, playing dumb is most likely to imply a criticism, as in "don't play dumb with me", while the other two could be used in a more neutral sense .
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Apr 18, 2012 at 4:38
  • 1
    I often hear "deliberately obtuse" being used incorrectly; this is a great example of the correct usage. Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 15:51

One expression that fits here is to play dumb.

  • In Italian the equivalent expression goes more or less "to play the fake dumb"
    – Paola
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 19:46
  • @Paola: If it weren't "fake", there would be no need to "play", would there? :) Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 20:47
  • 2
    @Armen You're right. I mentioned it because it is the literal translation of the Italian expression "fare il finto tonto"
    – Paola
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 20:56
  • @Paola: I don't speak much Italian, but the phrase sounds awesome in Italian! Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 21:06

Sounds like he's being disingenuous:

Not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does [ODO]


Speaking about an earlier interaction with someone else, I might say "He played dumb", but when speaking to the person doing it (assuming I wanted to raise the issue at all), I'd say...

Don't come the innocent with me!

...which very definitely means don't pretend you don't know what we both know [and both know we know, and both know we know we know, etc., etc.].

It was many years before it dawned on me that the related Australian Don't come the raw prawn usually has more the sense of "I am not stupid, so don't treat me as if I am", where the innocent version means "I know you are not stupid, and I'm not prepared to treat you as if you were".


In Australia we use the phrase "Don't come the raw prawn with me" to describe this behaviour.


@Cameron already has a nice list, but I would love to add play possum. Apparently opossums can pretend to be dead, hence the idiom. It is used for feigning ignorance or pretending to be asleep.

I am sure you know the perpetrators, don't play possum!


Artfully deflecting questions can be considered a type of stonewalling, but it has too broad a definition to apply exclusively to your question.

Likewise, being socially oblivious isn't the same as refusing to be drawn in.


" He's as dumb as a fox." (A fox is smart)


Ghetto- he's frontin' (putting up a false front)

British slang- are you "taking the piss?" (More so when you think someone is pulling your leg/being absurd.)

  • Neither of these accurately reflect what the OP wants. 'Fronting' is more likely to mean the person is is pretending to know more than they do. Taking the piss - yes somebody pretending not to know something, could be described as 'taking the piss', but refers to people being untruthful in general, it's not specific to pretend ignorance.
    – dwjohnston
    Commented Jun 20, 2014 at 1:42
  • 2
    I think you mean "taking the piss". "Are you taking a piss?" would mean "Are you literally passing urine right now?" Commented Jun 20, 2014 at 1:44
  • Furthermore, "taking the piss" has a wider range of meanings than just playing innocent (though that it one of the many things that could qualify).
    – Karasinsky
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 1:56

I guess you mean being Inconsiderate.

For instance:

Failing to replace the roll after using last of the toilet paper is very **inconsiderate**.

Source: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/inconsiderate

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