• whataboutism •
(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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