Someone asked in the Math.StackExchange chatroom what a "more refined word for circlejerk" might be. UrbanDictionary defines this (in our desired usage) as:

  • [...] pompous, self-congratulatory discussion where little to no progress is made.

  • A group discussion or activity between like-minded individuals that validates mutual biases or goals in a non-confrontational environment.

  • Sometimes used to describe an internet forum thread where forum members all give each other kudos (Or rep where a rep system is present) for some non-event that has occurred.

I guess it's related to "intellectual masturbation" or "echo chamber" but these don't quite fit the bill.

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    The whole concept is vulgar. How can you have a non vulgar synonym for a vulgar concept? – emory Jun 15 '12 at 2:40
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    @emory: The term "circlejerk" is being used as a metaphor in these bullet points; the literal meaning is mutual masturbation (e.g. men in a circle jerking each other off). Surely the figurative meaning is less vulgar than this. – anon Jun 15 '12 at 5:39
  • It reminds me of the phrase "walled garden", but not quite the same thing. – Andrew Grimm Nov 27 '12 at 20:06
  • I don't know why this is protected, but I think it's a great question that still hasn't been answered. There's a word for this on the tip of my tongue. The aspect most answers are missing is that this term implies meaningless mutual praise or even dangerous fixation on suboptimal ideas simply because they are the pet idea of multiple people. – Preston Jun 6 '14 at 20:18
  • "The whole concept is vulgar." No, in a club of people self-congratulating is not vulgar, it's a reality. – Quidam Nov 24 '19 at 15:50

Perhaps they are members of a mutual admiration society. As ODO puts it:

A coterie of people who flatter one another and promote each other's reputations.

The earliest OED entry is from the December 1845 issue of The Knickerbocker, a monthly New York magazine.

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“Patting each other on the back” would fit the bill. For example:

If you’re finished with this circle jerk, maybe we could move on to new business.

Could be replaced with:

If you’re finished patting each other on the back, maybe we could move on to new business.

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    The connotations of this are a lot weaker than "circlejerk". – Stephanie Jun 15 '12 at 5:17
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    @Stephanie Aren't the connotations for any non-vulgar alternative to a vulgar phrase by definition weaker? – ghoppe Jun 15 '12 at 14:51
  • I think this works best as a substitute, and would have a similar level of admonishment without the vulgarity. – ghoppe Jun 15 '12 at 14:55
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    @Stephanie Weaker and less fun, but that's where good manners gets you. – Dean Jun 15 '12 at 15:52
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    @Stephanie It also depends on tone and context, of course. In my opinion, if someone said "If you're finished patting each other on the back…" in a meeting I was part of, I would receive quite a direct message. This is not a particularly polite or weakly-worded thing to say in my view, and the meaning is clear: you've all been blowing hot air and discussing unimportant things. – ghoppe Jun 18 '12 at 17:33

The notion of groupthink is closely related.

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  • The only problem with that is that it's an uncountable noun. – Joe Z. Jan 4 '13 at 17:46
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    I don't see any problems making it countable - groupthinkers – Viktor Mellgren Nov 16 '15 at 13:33
  • Why it would be a problem? – Quidam Nov 24 '19 at 15:59

I would describe it as a "mutual appreciation society".

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You might say this group is navel gazing:

self-indulgent or excessive contemplation of oneself or a single issue, at the expense of a wider view.

"he lapsed into his customary navel-gazing"

Here navel means belly button, and it literally means staring into your own belly button. But figuratively it refers to the type of behavior you've described.

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In their figurative meanings:


(slang, derogatory, offensive) An environment or thing which validates or reinforces a limited set of feelings or ideas.

-Echo chamber, as you mentioned:

(derogatory, by extension) An insular communication space that is of no interest to outsiders or refuses their input. 2007, Susan Faludi, The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America But it would resound in the conservative media's echo chamber.

On the model of "circlejerk", with "hugging" as an euphemism for "jerking",
but any other euphemism for it would work.

Better than groupthink, because it emphasizes the herd behaviour.

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How about a group of "yes"-men?

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    A yes man is somebody who assumes the same opinion as some influential person. IMHO, taking the same opinion can both be honest or a way of brown-nosing. In a circle jerk, everybody genuinely has the same or very similar opinions and reinforce one another in that vision. – Egon Jun 16 '12 at 5:21
  • Taking the same opinion is never honest. – Quidam Nov 24 '19 at 15:51

A reasonably polite expression in this context is "One hand washes the other."

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  • However, when hands wash each other, the teamwork is constructive. The question here is the self-congratulatory process. – Yosef Baskin Jan 26 '17 at 17:00
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    "One hand washes the other" has a connotation of "shady deal to everyone else's disadvantage" .... – rackandboneman Feb 14 '18 at 9:45
  • @rackandboneman: At least one of the OP's examples "Sometimes used to describe an internet forum thread where forum members all give each other kudos (Or rep where a rep system is present) for some non-event that has occurred." meets your definition as well. – Tom Au Feb 14 '18 at 11:48
  • It lacks the main meanings. – Quidam Nov 24 '19 at 15:51

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