Semantic bait-and-switch

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Semantic bait-and-switch is a rhetorical deception in which the different definitions of a semantic chameleon (a word or phrase with more than one distinct definition) are used to construct a fallacious argument that appears true because of the superficial similarities between the definitions.

These arguments typically involve the bait of an appealing definition (a definition that places the subject in a positive light, or at least one that is easy to agree to for the sake of argument) followed by the hook of a less appealing definition (often one that is more popular, more vague, or that places the subject in a less positive light) and subsequent conflation of the two definitions (i.e. equivocation) to reach a fallacious conclusion about the second definition.


Semantic bait-and-switch is often used in black box arguments.


  • free market:
    • Definition 1: a marketplace where all individuals are free to deal as peers
    • Definition 2: a marketplace free of any regulations or rules (sometimes with "other than enforcement of voluntary contracts" as an additional condition)
    • The bait: Free markets [definition 1] have been proven to be effective creators of wealth. By allowing individuals to seek the most optimal trade of value for price, such markets cull out waste and dishonesty while encouraging productive and efficient production.
    • The hook: We must eliminate all government interference in order to have a truly free market [definition 2]
    • The conflation: Government regulation is to blame for any lack of freedom in the marketplace, and therefore should be eliminated.
  • God:
    • Definition 1: that which created the universe
    • Definition 2: that which wrote the Bible
    • The bait: "God" is defined as that which created the universe. The universe exists, therefore something must have created it; we call that force "God". [definition 1] [Note that "God" could be a synonym for "the Big Bang" under this definition.]
    • The hook: If you go against the teachings of the Bible, you are violating the will of God [definition 2].
    • The conflation: Therefore it is the will of the creator of the universe that you follow the teachings of the Bible