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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Sun Nov 19, 2017 10:10 pm

• whataboutism •

Pronunciation: (h)wê-dê-bæu-diz-êm • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: The equivalency ploy, a logical fallacy (the tu quoque "you, too" fallacy) in which a counterclaim points out the hypocrisy of some criticism by raising a claim that those who think so are guilty of the same thing, for instance:
Teacher: "Billy, you must stay after school for hitting Johnny!"
Billy: "Well, what about him? He hit me first!"

Notes: In the UK this phenomenon is called whataboutery. The name comes from the fact that such counterclaims are often preceded by, "What about . . . ." A person who uses whatabouts is a whataboutist, who resorts to whataboutistic devices in arguments. A whatabout doesn't have to begin with "what about".

In Play: A whataboutist thinks that equivalency is a reason, not a weak excuse, ignoring the fact that two wrongs to not make a right: "Racism still exists in the US." "Well, what about Japan. It's as bad as the US." This comment doesn't excuse racism in the US. Whataboutism is rampant in US politics today. When politicians have no good argument, they all too often resort to whataboutist retorts.

Word History: Whataboutery enjoys a longer history than whataboutism. Ben Zimmer found a mention of whatabouts in print as early as 1974, so it must have arisen in the 1970s or late 1960s. It was soon followed by several mentions of whataboutery in the Irish news media. Today's Good Word arose in the 1990s. If the ploy were used as seldom as the words for it, the world would be a better place. (John Oliver in the final 2017 episode of the HBO series "Last Week Tonight" brought this word to my attention. This word received its own segment, which I highly recommend. You can find it on Youtube.)
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George Kovac
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Re: Whataboutism

Postby George Kovac » Mon Nov 27, 2017 11:35 am

Thank you, Dr. Goodword, for bringing this valuable word to our attention.

I assumed “whataboutism” was a nonce word or neologism, a clever coinage by a clever political comedian, and so took Dr. Goodword's discussion lightly. I did not realize the word originated a generation ago.

Then, at Dr. Goodword’s admonition, I watched the John Oliver segment, which was insightful, articulate and cautionary.

The practice of “whataboutism” has always been with us as a part of ordinary life. Anyone who has argued with a parent, spouse, child, friend, roommate, boss, or coworker has, more than once, been a perpetrator or a victim of “whataboutism.” Usually we feel a bit ashamed afterwards: we realize the exchange was petty, advanced nothing substantive, and was useless for any purpose other than widening the disagreement. But hey, that is the messiness of life, love and labor at a personal level. Most of us can and do patch things up with the folks we are close to. We live, play or work with these folks all the time, and so put our intemperance into a context.

But when whataboutism is embraced and championed as a legitimate device in the public sphere, it becomes an invidious weapon, intended not to advance debate but to foreclose it. Whataboutism distracts and diminishes. Reason is disparaged in favor of fear and force. As Oliver perceptively observes, whataboutism is a pernicious rhetorical device, a serious threat to public discourse that deserves to be labeled, called out and anathematized.
“The messy layers of human experience get pulled together, and sometimes ordered, by words.” Colum McCann “But Always Meeting Ourselves” New York Times, June 15, 2009

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Re: Whataboutism

Postby call_copse » Tue Nov 28, 2017 8:33 am

One notes an excessive quantity of this going on in online debates right now, frequently one imagines in a thick Russian accent.

'But what about Hillary?'

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