straw man


noun

a mass of straw formed to resemble a man, as for a doll or scarecrow.
a person whose importance or function is only nominal, as to cover another's activities; front.
a fabricated or conveniently weak or innocuous person, object, matter, etc., used as a seeming adversary or argument: The issue she railed about was no more than a straw man.

QUIZZES

BEAT THE DOLDRUMS WITH THIS WORD OF THE DAY QUIZ!

We know you’ll tackle this quiz totis viribus! See how many words from the week of Oct 12–18, 2020 you get right!
Question 1 of 7
What does “Indigenous” mean?

Origin of straw man

First recorded in 1585–95
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

VOCAB BUILDER

What does straw man mean?

A straw man is a fictional, exaggerated version of an opposing viewpoint, especially one that’s intentionally created to be easy to dismiss or argue against and to make one’s own argument seem stronger.

It’s commonly used in the phrase straw man argument, referring to an argument that uses a straw man. Straw man is sometimes spelled strawman.

A straw man argument is a kind of logical fallacy, which is an illogical or misleading argument. Straw man arguments can be made unintentionally, but most are made on purpose to make the other side seem evil, incompetent, or extremist.

Because straw men are not based on reality, they are often considered deceitful or nonsensical, and the term implies a criticism of such methods. They are often associated with their use in political arguments or debates. For example, during a campaign, a politician may call for greater government protection for endangered wolves. If that politician’s opponent then accuses them of wanting to release wolves into elementary schools, that’s a straw man argument.

The literal meaning of straw man refers to the likeness of a person made out of straw (like a scarecrow).

Straw man can also be used to refer to a person who’s used to cover someone’s else’s activities when they may be illegal or unethical. For example, this sense of straw man can refer to someone who makes a straw purchase—a purchase of something, such as a gun, for a person who is restricted from buying it.

Example: The senator was criticized for using a straw man argument during the debate instead of addressing his opponent’s real position.

Where does straw man come from?

The first records of the term straw man come from the 1580s. It was used literally to refer to a human figure made out of straw. The use of straw man to refer to a form of argument is newer, although the exact origin is unknown.

The term is used as a metaphor, alluding to the fact that a person made of straw is obviously not real and is therefore an easy opponent due to being incapable of fighting back.

The goal of a straw man is to weaken an opponent’s actual argument and make your own look better in comparison. Of course, this strategy can fail if the audience realizes that you are attacking a straw man because you aren’t confident in your own position and wouldn’t hold up against the opposing argument.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to straw man?

  • straw men (plural)
  • strawman (alternate spelling)
  • straw-man (alternate spelling)

What are some synonyms for straw man?

What are some words that share a root or word element with straw man

What are some words that often get used in discussing straw man?

 

How is straw man used in real life?

The phrase straw man implies a criticism of such arguments. Straw man arguments are especially associated with political debates.

 

 

Try using straw man!

True or False?

A straw man is an accurate representation of an opposing argument that is logically disproved with researched facts and figures.

Example sentences from the Web for straw man

British Dictionary definitions for straw man

straw man

noun mainly US

a figure of a man made from straw
another term for man of straw
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for straw man

straw man

A made-up version of an opponent's argument that can easily be defeated. To accuse people of attacking a straw man is to suggest that they are avoiding worthier opponents and more valid criticisms of their own position: “His speech had emotional appeal, but it wasn't really convincing because he attacked a straw man rather than addressing the real issues.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.