Is there a word or concise term for attempting to appear intelligent or refined by taking an unpopular opinion? I'm not sure how to best describe this concept. The best term I can think of at the moment is to be contrarian, but it doesn't seem completely satisfying.

  • 3
    Can you elaborate a bit more on your question? Is this person taking the unpopular opinion because they truly believe it, or are they taking this opinion just to get a rise out of someone?
    – Souta
    Oct 15, 2012 at 23:08
  • Yeah, I think "contrarian" is it.
    – Dan Hauer
    Oct 15, 2012 at 23:08
  • contrarian can fit, but so can "devil's advocate" and "eristic"
    – Souta
    Oct 15, 2012 at 23:10
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  • 2
    ... and your word should not apply to someone who really is intelligent and has an unpopular opinion??
    – GEdgar
    Oct 16, 2012 at 1:43

2 Answers 2


Besides contrarian:

devil's advocate The Free Dictionary:

One who argues against a cause or position, not as a committed opponent but simply for the sake of argument or to determine the validity of the cause or position.

(Other verifying sources: Merriam-Webster & Dictionary.com)

(slightly off-question suggestion)

eristic Wikipedia:

often refers to a type of argument where the participants fight and quarrel without any reasonable goal. The aim usually is to win the argument and/or to engage into a conflict for the sole purpose of wasting time through arguments, not to potentially discover a true or probable answer to any specific question or topic. Eristic is arguing for the sake of conflict as opposed to the seeking of conflict resolution.

(Other verifying sources: The Free Dictionary, Merriam-Webster & Dictionary.com)

  • I'm not sure if eristic captures the "trying to appear intelligent" part of the O.P.'s request, but it's a great suggestion nonetheless.
    – J.R.
    Oct 15, 2012 at 23:57
  • @J.R. Yeah, I realized that a couple minutes after I posted my answer, but I let it remain for that purpose. Thanks though! ^-^ (I should probably edit the answer for clarification...)
    – Souta
    Oct 16, 2012 at 0:03
  • @Souta I think I ought to note that, from what I know, most people who use eristic mostly use it in discourses about ancient Greek rhetoricians. Otherwise, I think that eristic satisfies all of the OP's criteria: historians and philosophers regard the ancient Greek rhetoricians as using eristic in order to, or in attempt to, demonstrate their intelligence. In my opinion, you ought to delete "(slightly off-question suggestion)" and proffer eristic as your first answer.
    – Hal
    Mar 19, 2015 at 14:40

Here are some jokey answers:

  • being a hipster
  • being in favour of something before it went (or was) mainstream (< web meme)
  • "There's not a bandwagon that John won't jump off of."

Well, that last one's my own invention, but it's never caught on.

None of these address the question of appearing intelligent, however. A phrase that suggests self-exclusion if not contrarianism, and for the purpose of appearing superior if not specifically more intelligent, is

I gather it's a more or less recognizable idiomatic expression outside the US but is especially popular in Australia. Note that although the Wikipedia link suggests the user of the phrase "tall poppy" suggests resentment, I've always taken it to be used as an insult against a (would-be) elite. There is probably some migration from an egalitarian to a meritocratic worldview involved here.

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