in other words

How to Think, pp. 106-07:

Take, for example, one of the most common and least appealing defensive strategies I know: what I call “in-other-wordsing.”

We see it every day. Someone points at an argument — a blog post, say, or an op-ed column— and someone else replies, “In other words, you’re saying . . .” And inevitably the argument, when put in other words, is revealed to be vacuous or wicked. […]

This kind of thing is closely related to the building of a straw man. The straw man is an evidently stupid argument that no one actually holds: refuting the ridiculous straw-man argument is easier than refuting the argument that someone actually made, so up in flames goes the figure of straw. And straw-manning is a version of in-other-wordsing. But it’s also possible to in-other-words someone’s argument not to make it seem that she holds simplistic views but rather to indicate that she holds views belonging to your adversary, to your outgroup.

In-other-wordsing is a bad, bad habit, but anyone who wants to resist it can do so. (Again, as we have had cause to remember throughout this exploration, many people don’t want to avoid it, they want to use it to win political or social or religious battles. And again: this book is not for such people.)

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