Someone made this statement:

You found the perfect partner (looks, finance, personality) but the sex is a bust, would you cheat?

I found it offensive that she was making the question 'would you cheat' look very normal but I didn't really know how to describe it. I pointed it out but she claimed there was no need to brush such a present day reality under the carpet. I considered it logically and eventually used the term Argumentum ad populum to express the fallacy in her statement but what I actually wanted was a word to use in describing her action i.e. making something wrong appear normal because it is common. I couldn't come up with anything, any help?

  • 4
    That statement is a logical contradiction, if your partner was perfect, there would be no reason to cheat. If they have a flaw, then they're, by definition, not perfect.
    – zzzzBov
    Nov 3, 2012 at 22:29
  • 11
    Eat shit! Billions of flies can't be wrong!
    – SF.
    Nov 3, 2012 at 23:16
  • 3
    I can't imagine anyone being offended by such a normal sounding question in casual conversation. In no way does the person asking this question necessarily condone cheating.
    – wim
    Nov 4, 2012 at 0:04
  • 12
    This question is such a string of non-sequiturs, I don't understand how it got seven up-votes. Firstly, her question doesn't imply that cheating is O.K., and it doesn't make reference to the prevalence of cheating; so either you totally misunderstood her, or those implications came from elsewhere in the conversation and you're quoting the completely wrong part. Secondly, if something is very common, then it is normal, no matter how immoral and unethical it is. Heck, it's possible to have a culture where it's normal to kill babies.
    – ruakh
    Nov 4, 2012 at 1:51
  • 3
    Interesting! I don't feel the statement is automatically making it seem right to cheat, and neither do I feel it is highlighting any instance where one "should" cheat. At the very least, it is asking about an instance where someone might be tempted to cheat - but only to find out something about the person, not necessarily condoning that. And if someone would assume I'm an unreliable bad person on the basis of simply asking such a question, I would think that pretty judgemental (p.s. I'm from Australia)
    – wim
    Nov 4, 2012 at 12:12

15 Answers 15


From your own moral point of view, you could say that she has a skewed moral compass and that she's simply rubber-stamping the mores of the morally bankrupt society that we live in.

Or something like that ...

  • 1
    Wow, I like how you say it :) Nov 3, 2012 at 21:34
  • 3
    Rubber-stamping to me has more of a connotation of the bureaucracy and officialdom than of the social sphere in general. Nov 4, 2012 at 0:17
  • 2
    @coleoperist, LOVE the off-beat use of rubber-stamping! Nov 4, 2012 at 2:09

You might be looking for a term such as ethical drift.

Here is an example from nursing ("a gradual erosion of ethical behavior that occurs in individuals below their level of awareness"), and here is one from business ("Slowly drifting away from professional and legal standards and personal standards a business person has long been associated with"). Have a look and see what you think.


The action (of asking such a question) might be referred to as gauche (“Awkward or lacking in social graces; bumbling”) or tactless (“having no tact; unaware or intentionally inconsiderate of someone else's feelings”). The behavior of asking might be considered déclassé, except that dictionary-usage of déclassé is along the lines of referring to a person “degraded from one's social class”, I think, rather than one engaging in degrading behavior.

  • 2
    Eh, not really, in this case the statement itself is socially acceptable because it is normal, yet it is wrong in nature. Nov 3, 2012 at 18:19

This might be minimization or reduction, the opposite of exaggeration: downplaying, discounting, or understatement. The purpose is to make an unethical act seem more trivial than it is:

Minimizing makes unethical transgressions seem smaller. The person who admits that he or she did something wrong but states, "It's not that big of a deal." Minimizing is one of the most common ways we reduce our feelings of guilt and worthlessness resulting from transgressions. --The Ethical Executive

EDITED TO ADD: In your example: When asking "would you cheat?" so matter-of-factly, as if it were a common thing to ask or a reasonable option, the questioner might be minimizing the negativeness of cheating.

  • So you believe saying 'would you give bribe to get a promotion' for instance, can be refereed to as minimization? Nov 3, 2012 at 18:46
  • @ChibuezeOpata No. I don't understand where you came up with that example. What does "giving [a] bribe to get a promotion" have to do with your original question? Nov 3, 2012 at 19:33
  • 1
    Yeah - my first thought was along the lines of trivialisation, flippancy, downplaying, so we're in the same general ball park here. I might also quite like to use something like normalisation, but I'm sure there's a better word for what I'm getting at there. Nov 5, 2012 at 3:06

At the risk of sounding glib, you may just be looking for normalize.

Though normalize doesn't necessarily carry the connotation that its object is wrong, it does communicate what you objected to: the speaker's normative assumption [in this case, with respect to cheating].

If the question is posed in a way that assumes cheating is an uncontroversial choice (via tone or word choice, for example), then regardless of whatever response is given, the very act posing the question in such a way works to normalize the notion that cheating is a legitimate option for someone in the scenario in question. That is, if the assumption goes unquestioned.

For more, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normalization_%28sociology%29


I would say she was making a "moral solecism", in other words a mistake in her use of the expression "would you cheat?" to offer it as if it were an acceptable response to the evaluation of the partner.

Looking at her statement from a formal logic standpoint, you could also argue that she is committing a sophistry, a fallacious argument based on a mistaken assumption: that cheating on a partner is an acceptable form of action based on the decision being made.

This is a good question of yours. Really has made my brain work. I wonder if what you really want is the word habituate: "make or become accustomed or used to something", because it carries the connotation of making something abnormal become normal. And certainly, that is what she is doing here, making the assumption that cheating is an acceptable option because people do it all the time.


I think "sheep mentality" fits. It implies following a trend because of its popularity without giving it a serious thought. It still doesn't mean the subject would be otherwise unacceptable, but it gives a definitely negative connotation.


This is in fact an effect of drift in social norms, not about language as such: The text-book definition of what is right and what is not stays, but the society tacitly approves of transgressions.

However, there's the related concept sometimes known as a bad factoid in technical contexts.

Someone speaks of it as if it were a fact, others help spread the impression by repeated use of the expression, and eventually it becomes axiomatic: no one questions its veracity, but everyone accepts it as a fact.

Bad factoids can sometimes be statistically proven as the 'majority opinion'. But they cannot be proven by verification of facts.


I will suggest:

vulgar :

  • lacking in cultivation, perception, or taste
  • morally crude undeveloped, or unregenerate
  • lewdly or profanely indecent


uncouth :

  • lacking in polish and grace

I think "naturalistic fallacy" is somewhat apropos and along the same lines of Argumentum ad populum, although she doesn't really imply one OUGHT to cheat, rather that many would.

  • Saying that many would so something implies it's normal, but the point is that something being normal does not make it right. Nov 6, 2012 at 20:23

What I think you're getting at is that a question can imply the validity of a certain (objectionable or invalid) choice simply by presenting it as plausible option among many.

To me, that's basically a loaded question:

A loaded question is a question which contains a controversial or unjustified assumption.


One could accuse her of making a complicitous assumption that cheating is normal.


You could say something along the lines of; "Something isn’t necessarily correct purely because popular consensus suggests it. Whilst it may be the norm in certain circles of society, it’s still morally/ethically bereft." It might also be worth pointing out that something / someone with attributes with which the plaintiff is not satisfied cannot by definition be perfect, and that it is an oxymoron to suggest otherwise.

Or you could just call them an idiot, depending on their apparent level of intelligence.

  • 1
    This doesn't really answer the OP's question in a useful way.
    – Zairja
    Nov 4, 2012 at 5:01

The correct word, in my opinion, is 'Misnomer'.

According to Wikipedia:

A misnomer is a word or term that suggests a meaning that is known to be wrong. Misnomers often arise because the thing named received its name long before its true nature was known. A misnomer may also be simply a word that is used incorrectly or misleadingly.

  • Misnomer is incorrect; "wrong" in the context of your excerpt means "incorrect" not morally or ethically "wrong". An example would be calling the graphite in pencils "lead".
    – user2512
    Nov 4, 2012 at 4:53

One could describe her as a "Lemming" based on behavior. Though shown to be biologically inaccurate, the term has been taken up by the popular culture specifically for people who act against common sense (and to the detriment of themselves and all) based on an urge to conform or follow trends.

There is probably also a way to see that the word "gentile" could be used in this way, but I think it's both radically pejorative and limited in other ways, so I'll leave the matter there given no other interest.

  • She is quite a lemming of an author; implying that tactless infidelity is an acceptable choice in the presence of an unhappy relationship.

  • The author implies that tactless infidelity is an acceptable choice in the presence of an unhappy relationship, which is quite gentile of her.

  • 4
    I get the "lemming" part, but don't get the "gentile" part at all. Are you using it in the sense of "heathen"? If so, it seems quite a stretch. Nov 4, 2012 at 0:20
  • @MarkBeadles regarding the pejorative use of gentile "A mortal king once said to his servant, ‘Go cook a meal for me.’ However, unbeknownst to the king, the servant had never cooked a meal in his life! After cooking a meal, the king got upset with him." I think I should remove this part, as I serves people no deep purpose to be educated on insults. Nov 4, 2012 at 1:19
  • To be sure, I understand that gentile has such a meaning and usage, and I appreciate the variety of ways humans have of constructing insults. I simply don't agree that it would be at all appropriate in this instance. Nov 4, 2012 at 1:31
  • The quoted author believes that she is right and that this behavior is normal for her audience – thus no qualification is made for her 'relatively unethical/immoral' statements. Those whom would use 'gentile' pejoratively would also think the same of those they're insulting. Nov 4, 2012 at 4:09
  • *"Those using..." I accidentally some grammar. Nov 5, 2012 at 4:17

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.