Last mod. Mon Mar 25 15:22:44 EST 2002
First, we have the Ad Hominem
Variants where you attack the person as a way to avoid truth,
science or logic which might otherwise prove you wrong.
Next are the Sleight of Mind Fallacies,
which act as "mental magic" to make sure the unwanted subject
Then we move on to Delay Tactics, which are
subtle means to buy time when put on the spot.
Then the ever popular Question as
Opportunity ploys, where any question can be deftly averted.
Finally, we have the General Irritants,
which are basically "below the belt" punches and cheap-shots.
Other miscellaneous techniques.
Ad Hominem Variants
OVER YOUR HEAD:
"I'd like to respond to that, but taking into account your
background, education, and intelligence, I am quite sure that you would
not be able to understand."
"My next point will be so cogent that even you will be able
to understand it."
"Even you should be able to grasp the next point."
YOU'LL GET OVER IT:
"I used to think that way when I was your age."
"As you mature emotionally (or mentally, or spiritually), you will
grow out of your present way of thinking, and you will eventually come
around to my point of view"
"You're new here, aren't you?"
WISHFUL THINKING: Instead of proving a point true or false,
this technique tries to imply that the individual's desires have led
him/her astray without dealing with the merits of the issue itself.
(C.S. Lewis termed this "Bulverism".) Any strong desire can be shown to
have tainted a conclusion or clouded objectivity, which cast in doubt
the legitimacy of a point. This is very close to the classic ad hominem
fallacy - "you say that because you are a man".
support capital punishment because of a deep-rooted death wish common
among those who have suffered emotional traumas during childhood."
"You oppose capital punishment because of an irrational suppressed
death taboo common among those who have suffered emotional trauma
"You weren't breast fed as a child, were you?"
PRETEND AD HOMINEM: Make it seem as if the other person is
attacking you rather than making a simple point or correction,
if you suspect that the other party is right. Rather than staying on
the subject, begin to act hurt - as if you have been viciously attacked
as a human being - rather than admit you are wrong, or could do better,
etc. in some particular. That will teach them to keep quiet
about such things in the future, no? Also known as the ESCALATION
"I can't do anything right..."
"I suppose in your eyes I am just a total failure."
["I think the reason people are honking and gesticulating at you is
that the sign says MERGE, not STOP."] "Well, if you think me such a
terrible, horrible person..."
Sleight of Mind Fallacies
NIT-PICKING: Instead of dealing with a comment or
question directly, the idea here is to focus in on some insignificant
detail to evade the issue or buy time to think.
to define just exactly what you mean by _________"
"Your last sentence ended with a preposition. Please restate it
OUT OF CONTEXT: A twisted version of NIT-PICKING, the
technique here is to purposely misunderstand some word, phrase, or
analogy and shift the focus to it instead of the subject. This ploy
will derail the other person into a defense of the word, phrase, or
analogy instead of the case at hand.
"You said 'feel'
instead of 'think'. If you are feeling instead of thinking, I won't be
able to convince you with reason."
"You said this happened five years before Hitler came to power. Why
are you so fascinated with Hitler? Are you anti-Semitic?"
I'M NOT SAYING THIS: This is a marvelous way to come off as
nice while saying things that would otherwise be considered rude.
"Have I ever brought up the $523.52 you owe me? Never! Have
I ever embarrassed you or made you feel bad over it? Have I ever told
you how much I need that money? No, I never have."
"I don't want to spend a lot of time on this, but..." (blah, blah,
"My dear congregation, I hate to speak of money matters, but (money,
HEAT-SEEKING QUESTION: The intent here is to throw the other
person's competence in doubt while at the same time changing the
subject. A question is asked that the other person is not likely to
know the answer to, destroying credibility and confidence. To really
rub it in, the questioner can give a full answer to his/her own
question proving him/herself to have superior knowledge of the
"You mentioned the constitution. Can you quote
the preamble for us?"
"Do you realize which of the dialectic principals you've just
violated?" [ "No."] "I'd be glad to explain them to you, but (branch to
OVER YOUR HEAD)."
RIGHT BY ASSOCIATION:
"I have observed that those who disagree with me on the
next point tend to be unsophisticated, and those who quickly recognize
the validity of the point to be more educated. The point is..."
"Of course there is a lot of debate on this subject, but the best
CHEAP SHOT: This technique requires prior knowledge of some
embarrassing mistake or painful event in the other person's life. This
knowledge can be woven into a comment in a way that agitates the other
person without direct reference. A key word or phrase is tossed out
like a grenade that embarrasses or humiliates the other person.
"What was it your ex-wife used to say..?"
"Didn't we already have this argument just before you went through
the de-tox program?"
THE SALESMAN'S CLOSE: A technique where an obvious question
is asked, the response to which is driven by common sense or decency.
The yes or no response is then implied to mean a COMPLETE AGREEMENT to
the asker's point of view.
Family get-together: "Doesn't
your family mean anything to you?" ["Well, yes!"] "Then I will see you
Support a political movement: "Do you want communism in America? Is
that what you want?"
Join a Health Spa: "Don't you care about your own
BOMBAST: A rhetorical ploy to give more emotional force to a
point of objection than is appropriate. This requires showmanship and
involves risk, but when it works it can be quite effective. It is
useful to use exaggerated facial expressions and/or pound an any nearby
objects to effectively communicate the over-reaction.
DARE you question such an obvious point?"
"Honestly! You can't REALLY expect me to believe that?"
THINK VS. FEEL: A person will likely be off-center of the
ANALYTICAL/EMOTIVE SPECTRUM (an alternate name for this technique) in
any heated exchange. By pointing out which side the other person is on,
(either side will do) he/she is obliged to defend his/her temperament
instead of the case at hand.
"Your cold, analytical
approach to this issue doesn't take into account the human element."
"Your emotional involvement with this issue obscures your ability to
see things objectively."
LUNATIC FRINGE: If a person is making an imaginative or novel
point, the approach here is to push the idea to a radical extreme
generally agreed to be bad. The extreme can be either real or imagined.
The hope here is that the other person will reflexively back-off and
retreat to a defensive position, thus short-circuiting the veracity of
"So you think we ought to just throw out the
whole system, then?"
"How is that different from classic fascism?"
"So you would just like to kill off anyone who disagrees with you,
CUT 'EM OFF AT THE PASS: If you can see where the other
person's logic is leading, you can make it very difficult along the way
by arguing each minute sub-point and example. If the other person can
not get past point #1, how will a case ever be made? Most of the
techniques listed can be used to achieve this end.
don't think we can go on until we establish the scientific validity of
that last statement."
DENIAL OF A VALID CONCLUSION: This is the opposite of the CUT
'EM OFF AT THE PASS technique. Instead of arguing along the way, agree
with all of the sub-points but deny the obvious conclusion. This is
very frustrating to the other person because it automatically changes
the subject to epistemology (how we know what we know). Generally, the
other person will attempt another explanation rather than get into a
heavy epistemological discussion, and the technique can simply be
"I don't see how you figure that."
"I agree with everything you said except the conclusion. It doesn't
make any sense to me and I can not accept it. I am trying, but your
brain must work much differently than mine."
If when put on the spot to answer a question you come up blank, then
delay tactics can buy time to dream one up. These tactics are risky,
because if you are not able to think of anything clever during the time
you buy... you will be pinned even further.
ANSWER: Give descriptive attributes of the eventual answer, then
pause as if expecting a response, while thinking of a real answer. When
this technique is repeated the other person will appear to be begging
you to give an answer.
"Excellent question, and I think
the answer will startle you." (Pause, look thoughtfully as if a
response is due while thinking up an answer.)
"I think the answer to your last question will clear up your
confusion on this subject. (Long pause...) Are you ready?"
"I'm glad you asked. Would you like a long or a short
DESCRIBE THE QUESTION: Same as above, only here the
diversionary shift of focus is on the question.
question could only come from the confusion of the ______ mind-set."
"That is an interesting question coming from you. Interesting,
interesting, interesting." (Pause, as if admiring the other person... )
"The question asked, is basically _______, ________, _______."
(Re-state the questions in various ways, pausing for approval between
each, while thinking up an answer.)
QUESTION THE QUESTION / COMMENT: A great lead-in for the
technique of WISHFUL THINKING, or a method of delay to give yourself
time to think of an answer.
"Why do you ask that?"
"What drives you to make such a statement?"
BRAIN SEIZURE: A complex statement that paralyzes the brain.
"What you inferred is not what you implied."
"Your problem is that you are thinking in a linear versus
"I was absent because I wasn't here."
"If you didn't start class on time, I wouldn't be
"I don't know why I have to take reading. I already know
how to read. The only thing I don't understand is the
"I could pass English if I didn't have to write
"I don't see why you gave me an F for not doing the
assignment. I didn't do the assignment because I already knew how to do
"I don't see why I have to take developmental math. I know
how to add and subtract and multiply and divide; I just don't know when
to do it."
WORD SALAD, a.k.a. SESQUIPEDALIANISM:
This is a recipe for sophisticated babbling. Ingredients include:
philosophic sounding words and sentence structure, unintelligible Latin
terms, banal folk wisdom, jargon, catch-phrases, truisms, etc. Sprinkle
lightly with a few words that appear to pertain to the subject. This
will sound very impressive without really saying anything, and buy time
to think of something meaty to say while your lips are flapping. In
some circles such machinations can actually be passed off as an
answer - or a point!
"In view of the Federal Budget
Deficit, civil unrest and international politics, we need to consider
that notwithstanding the mitigating circumstances, this country has got
to get back on its feet. Don't you agree?"
REVERSE THE QUESTION: Echo the question back or ask the other
person a similar or difficult question. (This can be a valid technique
if not used merely as a delay tactic.)
"What do you think
the answer to your question is?"
"How 'bout if I ask you a similar question?"
START A STORY: With a sparkle in your eye, start into a
long-winded story which presumes to apply to the subject at hand.
Continue until the other person calls your bluff, then act insulted and
claim that you are not getting equal time or a fair chance to explain
you case. Then, thoroughly offended, drop the cover story and start
with the real answer (whatever it was you were able to think of while
you were babbling). (Ronald Reagan did this a lot.)
reminds me of the time I was in Cucamonga. Let me tell you, it was hot!
(Time to think up real answer during dramatic pauses) And we were in a
small hotel when a gas leak started. Well! You can imagine how
OBVIOUS ANSWER: To give an obvious, over-literal, useless, or
pun response to delay with humor.
["What is your first
point?"] "My first point is point #1."
[How do you explain the difference between salaries of men and women
in this company who are perfoming the exact same jobs?] "I'm not sure,
but I think it has to do with gender."
Question As Opportunity
A standard response for politicians is to view any question as
an opportunity to say whatever they want. The "answer" does not have to
have anything to do with the "question" asked. This practice has all
but killed the utility of debate and dialog in politics, and unhappily
it is spreading to other areas of life as well. Following are some
inconspicuous (to the uninitiated) techniques that allow a deft shift
from the question subject to the desired subject.
THAT": Deny that the issue is limited to the question at hand.
Redefine the issue to your favorite topic.
"It is not a
question of (this) or (that), but rather it is an issue of (whatever it
is you want to say.)"
["Are you for or against capital punishment?"] "I don't think the
issue is being for or against capital punishment, the real issue facing
our country is the federal budget deficit. I propose that we...
"X IS ONE ISSUE, Y IS ANOTHER": Acknowledges the issue and
quickly change to a new subject.
"X is certainly one topic
that could be discussed, but Y is another..."
"Well, my track record is certainly one issue, but this month's
agenda is another. Do you know that in the next five
General Cheap Shot
Tactics & Irritants
"Take this example: suppose you were a person who was
incredibly stupid but was trying to come off as intelligent. What would
the proper response be if you were me?"
"Let's just say that we knew for sure that you were a sexual
"Why, that is a brilliant question coming from you!"
"You're looking less repulsive than usual today."
"Your statement is partially correct."
DISTORTED ACTIVE LISTENING: Active listening is where you
parrot back what the other person is saying in order to draw them out
and to keep them talking. DISTORTED ACTIVE LISTENING parrots back what
the other person is saying, but gets it all wrong, or makes it sound
incredibly stupid. Similar to LUNATIC FRINGE.
"If I hear
you correctly, your point is... (get it all wrong)."
"It sounds as if you are saying that torturing children is a good
NAME IT: To the feebleminded, if there is a NAME used as a
label for IT, then it must be wrong, even if it isn't.
The NAME, now an "proof" of sorts, can be used as a "sledgehammer" if
IT comes up again.
"The case you just made was first made
by Edgar Sullivan in the late 1800's and was quickly disproved. The
'Sullivan Error' inevitably occurs to people when they first start
studying the subject."
"Your line of reasoning is called the MacGregor Phenomenon."
"Why, that's Calvinism!"
I KNOW BETTER: A clever and socially acceptable way of
denying what someone has said by claiming to know more about what the
other person thinks or feels than they do. Believe it or not, this
technique is quite commonplace and effective.
cruel thing to say, and I know you don't mean it."
"You've made that point well, but: (1) I know where your heart
is... (2) I sense that you're not comfortable with what you're
saying... (3) I know what kind of person you are deep down, and that
you cannot continue to hold this position and maintain your integrity."
"Johnny, the reason I can't give you permission to go to the party
is because I know that deep in your heart you'd rather spend the time
here with me."
SELECTIVE MEMORY: To bring up a past event and GET IT ALL
WRONG, or even make up a past event. The intent is to get the other
person confused, angry, and defensive.
"You never admit
defeat. Remember that chess game I beat you in?" (The one you lost...)
"But last week (or a minute ago) you said the opposite! Make up your
"Remember last time we had an argument and you turned out to be
wrong and you wouldn't admit it? Now we are in the same spot we were
STUDIES HAVE SHOWN: When all else is lost, refer to a phony
study that supports your case. This is a bet the other person will not
call your bluff. Does he/she know for certain the study didn't happen?
The usual response is "I have not seen or heard of this study", further
discrediting the other person as not doing comprehensive study of
available source material.
"Research at UCLA has proven
"I know the idea sounds unorthodox, but the recent study at Harvard
has substantiated this view."
REPEAT OFFENDER, a.k.a. SLOGAN RESPONSES: The repeated use of
an assertion, truism, bad joke, or even physical gesture when used to
the point of extreme irritation.
"The customer comes
first!" ["But what about our profit?"] "The customer comes first! ["But
they don't have any money!"] "The customer... (etc., etc., etc.)"
["What do you think?"] "It's crazy." (wave arms while stating.)
["What is that supposed to mean?"] (wave arms wildly) ["Huh?"] (repeat
"I would like to answer your question directly, but
considering your (1) past reactions... (2) ability to cope with the
truth... (3) emotional instability... I feel that to do so would be a
disservice to you at this time." [Other person gets (justifiably)
upset.] "See, what did I tell you. You are flying off the handle
LOOK AT YOU: After using any of the previous ploys, point out
any physical manifestations of the other person's irritation as further
proof that they are wrong.
"You seem to be sweating a lot.
Of course I would be too if I had to try to support your flimsy
"Why look, your lips are quivering. You have a hard time admitting
defeat, don't you?"
SELECTIVE QUOTATION: Use an actual, fabricated, or
hypothetical statement from some universally credible source.
"What would your father say if he could hear you now?"
"As it says in the Bible: 'God helps those who help themselves'."
"If Albert Einstein were here I think he would agree with me. Didn't
he once say 'If an idea does not at first seem absurd, it is probably
YOU'LL PAY FOR THAT: If proven wrong or corrected in any way
that you do not like, revenge is the answer here. This can be
accomplished by throwing a fit, glowering at the person with a death
stare, complete withdrawal or pregnant silence, or some other form
of dramatic emotional blackmail as manipulation. The idea is to
train people not to correct you in the future by making them pay
dearly for correcting you now. Also known as the "THAT WILL TEACH YOU"
"If you are going to be that way about it,
"You don't love me...(sob!)"
FAST ANSWER: The technique here is to answer so quickly or in
such detail that no one could ever doubt the response.
["Do you really think that anyone else agrees with this
crazy idea?"] "52.359% of Americans surveyed agreed."
LISTEN UP: Pretend that the reason the other person isn't
able to agree with you is that they are not listening, or at least not
"If you'd just listen you would have heard me
the first time when I said that..."
"Since you obviously weren't listening when I said this before, I am
forced to repeat myself."
FILIBUSTER: To take an extraordinary amount of time or go to
great technical depth to wear out the other person and get time on your
side. The other person is pushed to give up and agree with you rather
than endure the torture of hearing you go through another sincere,
"Since you are a true intellectual, I
will have to give you a more comprehensive answer than most... Blah,
Blah, Blah... (use WORD SALAD technique) "Now that I have answered your
point, do you have any other concerns?" (repeat until the other person
collapses or gives in.)
THE MACHINE GUN:
A variation of the basic Question as Opportunity ploy is to
ask the other party many rapid-fire difficult or time consuming
questions... more along your lines of interest - or as a delay tactic
similar in effect to the NIT PICKING technique. The questions should
be asked in rapid succession so that the victim has no reasonable
chance to reply, and will likely forget a few if they (foolishly) take
the bait. Any that are neglected can be brought up later as an example
of "not being able to answer a question".
"Define truth... Define religion... Define God... Define
evil... Define mind... "
With the nose tilted slightly upwards, appear to be disinterested in
what the other party has to say: 1) because you "know" what they will
say in advance, 2) to make the point via body language that what the
other person is saying is essentially uninteresting or boring, or 3) as
a bluff to see how far you can go with this rudeness before it is
pointed out. Look around, nod with a patronized look on major points
as if enduring an idiot, tap the fingers, roll the eyes...
THE SELF ABSORPTION SYNDROME:
A response based on the premise that everything must somehow relate to
me, as I control reality, you see. If you have an opinion, this only
makes sense to me if it centers in me or my reaction to it. (Mary calls
this the "JUST SAYING THAT" technique.)
"You're just saying that to annoy me."
"Oh, you like to express outrageous opinions just to shock me."
"Well if that's so, how do you account for my feeling
Claim wild elasticity in words... to shift the meaning if caught in a
misrepresentation or gaff. (Named by Mary as "WORDS, WORDS,
"You're missing the point! You keep getting hung up on the
words without seeing the meaning! Besides, that's not what
*I* mean by science."
A variation of I'M NOT SAYING THIS, the idea here is to put words into
the mouth of a mythical them.
"Everyone knows that...; People are saying...; Well, they
say that...; The other kids...;" etc.
THE STRAW MAN:
Refute an argument that's truly ridiculous, with the same conclusion as
"People who say that are First-Amendment absolutists, but
we all know there are kinds of speech that must be restricted."
(Or as C S Lewis's "Screwtape" said to a fellow demon: Convince them
that since they can't believe in a horned man with a pointy tail in a
red suit, therefore they cannot believe in you.)
"All men may be created equal, but women are
"Sure, torture's wrong, but these so-called 'victims' of yours were not
WORD SWITCHEROO: Describe the other person's case using slur
words or other emotionally packed terms.
"I would never beat my children."
"Don't worry, we understand that you are emotionally
insecure and have a difficult time admitting you are wrong."
"You seem really upset about this issue, Bill. Is there something in
your personal life you would like to talk about?"
Use flexible words like "sometimes", "often", "perhaps", "many", "could
be", "in this scenario", etc. and be as vague as possible. Then
whatever turns out to be correct that someone else mentions - claim as
your own position. Also known as ONE WAY OR THE OTHER or THE
WHAT'S THE POINT?:
Assume the person's input or opinion is of no consequence based on some
"Since you are always negative, we will not bother
responding to your concerns."
"Ignore Joe, he is just 'like that'!"
THE GUT SHOT:
Subgroup of THE CHEAP SHOT. In response to a political, philosophical,
religious, etc. statement that you do not like but cannot refute,
switch gears from academic debate to personal attack
"If you approach life like that, you'll never be able to
sustain a marriage."
"God, I just wonder how your kids are going turn out."
THE LAUGHING HYENA:
A variation of the REPEAT OFFENDER gambit, the idea here is just to
laugh and laugh and laugh. Sure, this is rude, but laughter is
involuntary so it must be the other person's fault for being
so silly, right?
YOU KNOW BETTER:
A variant of I KNOW BETTER is to convey that not only do you know -
deep down - that the other person is wrong, but so do they.
Used to imply target is either too emotional, too biased, or too lazy
to see the obvious "truth". This can be a great lead in for the I KNOW
BETTER technique, as the resultant dumbfounded stare of the victom can
be taken as tacit permission to tell them what you know they know.
"You should know better than that! If we did it your
"If you'd just stop and think about it for a second, you'll realize
what a stupid point you just made."
"It's odd you'd say that, since - surely Jim - you know
RANDOM OPINION DERAILMENT:
In the middle of a conversation, preferably in a group, make an
irrelevant and subjective personal announcement if you do not like the
direction the dialog is going. (Dorothy calls this the UNSOLICITED
ANNOUNCEMENT technique.) Similar to the LOOK AT YOU technique, only
here it is LOOK AT ME.
"I'm cold. Isn't it cold right here?"
"I'm so hungry! I didn't have breakfast."
GIVE 'EM ENOUGH ROPE:
Someone is making a salient point and making it well. Ask them
sympathetic questions you know they'll agree with. Little by little,
twist the focus of the questions into something completely different
from what they were originally saying, always making sure to allow them
to do most of talking. By the time you ask them the last question,
they will have slipped their unwitting little neck into the noose of
words you just created for them.
[Barney is a great show for kids. I really love how he
keeps the kids occupied while I start dinner]
"Really? I've noticed
that my niece will sit quietly for hours watching him. Your kids
[Oh, it's a blessing. Sometimes I think I could just leave
them alone without a babysitter.]
"For how long will they sit
there? etc... until...."So, leaving the educational and emotional
needs of your children completely in the plush hands of a purple
dinosaur while you take a break from PARENTING is perfectly okay,
Suddenly become your opponent's closest buddy through back-slapping
affectation. It works as a delaying tactic, and if done with enough
charm can also allow for a complete change of topic - sort of like a
PIVOT POINT that has no merit except that "we're buds" (even if, or
especially if, you are not). Refer to the other person by name - very
slowly - and give a knowing look, etc.
"Paul... [long silence - with a smarmy emotional look on
your face - to think of an answer]"
"We've known each other a long time... Paul...... and you know
that [change of topic]"
In polite society, we have noticed a couple of rather stark code
phrases that act as euphemisms that are strikingly common in meaning
and general understanding.
"BLESS HIS HEART" (OR HER): ... means "what a
"Minnie Bumpfrass called today to check up on me, bless her
... and we all understand what is meant. For a flaming jerk (or worse)
we add the ever latent with meaning "LITTLE", as in "...bless her little
"HE MEANS WELL" (OR SHE): ...translates "avoid like
the plague", as complete incompetence is likely in view.
"Minnie Bumpfrass means well, bless her little heart..."
BABY NAME CODE RESPONSES:
When family or friends have a negative reaction to a parent's choice of
name for their child... it would never do to say so, at least
directly. Instead, we say things like:
"Well now, THAT'S INTERESTING!" which means, "You
have got to be kidding!"
"ISN'T THAT UNIQUE?" which translates, "The kid's life is
"Really? WHAT WILL YOU CALL HIM (OR HER)?" ...in other words,
"There is no way you can be serious with THAT name, so what did you
REALLY have in mind." (A family we know who named their son Rembrandt
got this a lot. They finally came around to retorting with absurd
answers like: "Moondoggie!".. in a totally deadpan manner.)
"IS IT A FAMILY NAME?" ...is the ultimate code phrase for
disapproval. The gist is, "Such a horrid choice could only be
rationalized by family pressure or tradition, else how could
This is good for disrupting the other person's train of thought: whilst
your opponent is talking, switch your gaze momentarily to his forehead
and then back to the eyes. In 60 seconds he will become agitated ...
and might even go away if you've done your job properly.
Another variation--vaguely remembered from a body language book--"If
you want someone to stop talking, stare intently at their mouth."
LIKE I SAID:
A variation of LISTEN UP, precede comments with "Like I said," or
"Again," especially when first mentioned. The idea is to imply that the
other person is not paying attention or is not very bright. Best said
in a haggard voice, as if you are quite irritated for having to put up
with such a dullard.
"Like I said, you file all of the blue copies in the
"Again, you have to make 5 copies the Blotchsky report
before mailing it out." ["But you never told me that before."] (Stare
at victim. Give a deep sigh. Pause. Repeat original statement,
overpronuciating each word.)
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX:
If a someone is trying to enact a policy change or introduce an idea,
and the boss (or anyone) doesn't agree with them, they will say it is
because they are refusing to "think outside the box". It couldn't
possibly be because their policy change or idea is unworkable, but
simply because others can't "think outside the box."
Receptionist: "I don't know why the boss won't let me work
from home. He just refuses to think outside the box."
It sounds like an apology, but really is a subtle way of conveying
disgust or feigned pity. Kay calls this the NON-APOLOGY, APOLOGY.
"I'm sorry you feel that way."
The victim may well only hear the coveted words "I'm sorry" and not get
it for a few moments.
"I am really terribly sorry and want to apologize for your
position on this matter."
CONNECT THE DOTS" DIVERSION:
Disarm your conversational opponent by bringing up any other views they
hold or facts about their life that have nothing to do with the subject
at hand and ask them to reconcile the two.
"So you're in favor of the death penalty, that's your
position? Didn't you say you had government loans in college? How can
you possibly justify your position as a recipient of educational
Of course, if they express a disbelief that one has anything to do with
the other, you must reply that someone who doesn't understand his/her
relation to the "collective" shouldn't be arguing for any policy.
OK, I'LL AGREE...
Pretend to agree, with a wink and a nudge, when you obviously don't as
way to give a shallow compliment, to curry favor, or as a negotiation
tactic. This is maddening, as it shows that you think the other
person's case is poor, but that you will patronize them in your
magnanimity. The implication is that the other person is a bimbo and
not worthy of arguing with.
"Hey, I mean, I'm so nuts about you I'd believe the earth
"You're so gorgeous you could talk me into any one of your
THE CONDITIONAL CAVEAT:
If someone uses a word such as "could", "should", or "would", point out
that the conditional tense is being used. This allows one to attack the
conditions upon which the question is based rather than answer the
["What would you do if ...?"]
"What I WOULD do depends entirely upon the context or
conditions involved. I can't sit here and give you a valid answer
without knowing the complete context. YOU might be able to justify
conclusions using biased or one-sided information, but I prefer to know
the whole story.
"Yeah, RIGHT! And the earth is flat (water is dry, winter
is hot etc.)!"
"And I suppose that birds have lips!" (Deep sigh, rest head
in hands, shake head, etc.)
Variant: "Yes, yes, yes; and water is wet." (To imply that
point is banal.)
A variation of the DESCRIBE THE ANSWER technique that is used in the
event that you are asked a question that you should, but do not know
the answer to. AKA the "SHIRLEY YOU KNOW" (sic) ploy.
["What kind of baliwick is this?"] "Surely you know... the
answer to that." (Look at the other person as if thinking "I never
realized he/she was that stupid.")
It is hoped that the other person will just shrug and move on. If
he/she responds with: "I really don't know, won't you tell me?" then
shift into giving pedantic clues. "Notice the form of the gizmos, and
observe the structure of the bobulates..." in a professorial tone, as
if tutoring a child in basic classification skills. End with:
"You really don't understand this, do you?" (Look very
disappointed.) "Perhaps George (or other third party, dictionary, etc.)
can explain it to you later."
THE PATRONIZING "HUSH":
After goading the other person with such tactics, they should
eventually whip themselves up into frenzied, loud speech in a vain
attempt to make their point. What a great opportunity to put your index
finger up to your lips and administer a long, drawn-out "Shhhh". This
requires a bit of facial caricature best rendered when your eyebrows
are knit in feigned disappointment in your opponent's irrationality.
Conversely, your lips reveal a slight smirk while shushing the other
person to silence. Drive them completely off the edge when you extend
your finger to their lips, continuing to hush them.
A variation of the THE PATRONIZING "HUSH" technique which intends to
provoke a person further by prodding them with commands they are not
likely to relish being given. The tone is abjectly condescending.
Pauses and general slowness are key.
"Whoah, there! Just C A L M... D O W N... (Put hand up at
25 degree angle, as in "back down.") ["I AM PERFECTLY CALM!!!"] "No
you're not! Look at you! Just R E..... L A X...."
"Just... Just take a deep breath, now. Breathe
THE BLOW OFF
To be executed about 3 seconds before the speaker's conclusion; the
perpetrator uses some disrespectful phrase to dismiss with utmost
contempt and sarcasm, and then walks away with a victorious attitude.
"Fine. Now that that is over..."
(To someone else not listening:) "Let me know when he is
finished, will you?"
SUGAR COATED INSULT:
Throw in big words that cut down the other person into conversation,
using them like compliments. Make sure to say them with a big smile and
enough inflection and sweetness in your voice so the person thinks
you're giving them praise. This works especially well coming from a
person with a known large vocabulary to another person with a
"How insipid of you!"
"That's very recalcitrant ..."
"Your points today are quite vapid, as usual!"
"How typically scatological of you."
IGNORE THE ANSWER:
In online discussions groups, the tactic is to utterly ignore an answer
that your opponent has given to one of your challenges, especially if
their answer is obviously correct and proves you wrong. Continue with
your point and even restate the challenge itself, accusing the person
of not having an answer at all.
Repeat this often, forcing him to explain the same point over and over
and OVER ... until he simply hits a boiling point. The trick here (at
least with public e-mail lists or forums) is to remember that other
people are watching this, but are not necessarily keeping up with the
details. You have to take the chance that they have not seen, or do not
particularly remember, his original responses to the question. Then,
when he finally explodes, he has totally discredited himself. After
all, if he were right, he would just answer your question and not throw
a little tantrum over it.
The only way to fail at this maneuver is if your opponent saved the
original response, and cuts and pastes it. Then you have to resort to
another tactic to get out of that one. But even this "proof" can be
ignored, and the process repeated endlessly.
YOU JUST HEARD THAT:
By pointing out a possible source, real or imagined, you can make it
seem as if the other person can't think for themselves. This technique
works even better if the supposed "source" of the other person's
opinion is controversial, much like the NAME IT tactic. The utility of
this is to avoid the point entirely and subtly imply that such a
derivative idea (whether this is true or not is of no consequence) is
WRONG BY ASSOCIATION, an alternate name for this technique.
"Really now, Cindy, all you're doing is spouting liberal
dogma. I'm trying to make a real point here ...."
"I'll bet you heard that on Rush Limbaugh!"
"You got that off of the INTERNET, didn't you?"
THE ROMEO RAILROAD:
This tactic works with one's sweetheart. Instead of continuing a
debate, the person (generally the one in the wrong) becomes physically
affectionate to end the discussion. This can halt the conversation for
minutes, hours, perhaps forever.
["Let's get back to the salient point here..."] "Shhhh..."
(with seductive glance and finger placed gently against the other
["So you can see that it is illogical to say that..."]
(Proceed to embrace, kiss, and so on to passionately drown the
BRAIN SEIZURE EXAMPLES:
"I was absent because I wasn't here."
"If you didn't start class on time, I wouldn't be late."
"I don't know why I have to take reading. I already know how to read.
The only thing I don't understand is the words."
"I could pass English if I didn't have to write anything."
"I don't see why you gave me an F for not doing the assignment.
I didn't do the assignment because I already knew how to do it."
"I don't see why I have to take developmental math. I know how to add
and subtract and multiply and divide; I just don't know when to do it."
Coffeehousing is the act of making distracting noises (i.e. shuffling
papers, jingling keys, clumsily rearranging items on your desk) in an
effort to distract someone while you are avoiding an answer to their
Some material from: VanDruff, Dean & VanDruff, Marshall
(1995), Conversational Cheap Shots: How Not To Talk. [Online,