ad hominem

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for January 23, 2021 is:

ad hominem • ad-HAH-muh-nem  • adjective

1 : appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect

2 : marked by or being an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to the contentions made


“One common gripe is that companies engaged in socially beneficial initiatives are simply doing so in order to enhance or protect their reputations, that the do-gooder impulse wells up from self-interest, not public beneficence. While that essentially constitutes an ad hominem argument, let’s take it straight up and suggest a simple answer: ‘So what?'” — The Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia), 27 Jan. 2020

“Sweeping conclusions, ad hominem attacks, and guilt by association animate red-blue battles, particularly on social media, but lawyers are taught to use careful and focused arguments to make their points.” — Robert K. Vischer, The Twin Cities Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minnesota), 13 Dec. 2020

Did you know?

Ad hominem literally means “to the person” in New Latin (Latin as first used in post-medieval texts). In centuries past, this adjective typically modified argument. An “argument ad hominem” (or argumentum ad hominem, to use the full New Latin phrase) was a valid method of persuasion by which one took advantage of an opponent’s interests or feelings in a debate, instead of just sticking to general principles. Ad hominem later came to be used to describe an attack aimed at an opponent’s character, and this is the sense more often heard today. The hostile nature of such attacks has led to an understanding of the term as meaning “against the person,” rather than its original Latin meaning of “to the person.”

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