Substituting a person’s actual position or argument with a distorted, exaggerated, or misrepresented version of the position of the argument is a straw man, ccording to the Logically Fallacious website. One gives the impression of refuting an opponent’s argument, while actually refuting an argument which was not even brought up.
So why is it called a “straw man?”
Etymology Online says that the phrase “man of straw” was first used to describe an imaginary opponent in the 1620s.
“Here’s one of the earliest examples I could find in a Google Books search of the phrase “straw man” being used in the context of a debate,” writes Grammar Girl. She says it’s in a periodical called The Chronicle published in 1878 by the students of the University of Michigan, and the anonymous author appears to be quoting another article from 1875, which is earlier than the citations for this kind of use that are shown in Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary:
“The average debater knows no finer fun than belaboring a man of straw. How often have we heard that ambitious disputant, in full flush of victory, fashion with his creative tongue that silliest of all fools—the straw man. Into the straw man’s mouth are put impossible propositions, and when he has been made to utter them, the speaker proper proceeds to show what an utter a** this straw man is.”
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