Porting this post over from Socialtext:

I wrote up some comments this morning on my Reluctant Guru blog about the way people use rhetorical intimidation to gain the upper hand in disputes.

Some of the phrases I commented on are “pure and simple,” “just plain wrong” and “pseudo-science.”

Here’s what I wrote — I will use this space here to write updates:

“Pure and simple” — As in, “This is theft, pure and simple.” This is sometimes used to add artificial certainty to an assertion, to make things seem black-and white.

“Just plain wrong” — Used in similar ways to “pure and simple” to impose an oversimplified certainty to your own side in an argument.

“There is no dispute that ….” — Followed sometimes by a statistic, sometimes simply by the speaker’s opinion. My immediate urge when I hear this is to respond with, “I hereby dispute you.”

“Nonsense” — Used to describe someone else’s idea and to position your own as superior.

“Utter” — This one occurred to me just now, as it is sometimes used with a word like “nonsense” or “hogwash” to make the other person’s idea sound even more unreliable.

“Pseudo-science” — Used to describe an area of inquiry that conflicts with your own deeply-held opinions. A celebrity not long ago used this term to disparage psychiatry. It is often used to describe any investigation into the paranormal, and is sometimes used by partisans on either side of the evolution-intelligent design debate to describe one another’s models.

“Ideology” or “belief system” — Used to describe someone else’s values or way of thinking. Seems to me that using these terms places a slightly negative spin on the other person’s position — as if my own way of thinking is truly objective, whereas the other person’s is tainted by extremism. I guess a good test might be to ask, Am I willing to describe my own way of thinking as an ideology or belief system?

AB — originally posted 22 March 2007