The fallacy of accent (also referred to as accentus, from its Latin denomination, and misleading accent[1]) is a verbal fallacy that reasons from two different vocal readings of the same written words. In English, the fallacy typically relies on prosodic stress, the emphasis given to a word within a phrase, or a phrase within a sentence.[1][2][3] The fallacy has also been extended to grammatical ambiguity caused by missing punctuation.[4]


Among the thirteen types of fallacies in his book Sophistical Refutations, Aristotle lists a fallacy he calls προσῳδία (prosody), later translated in Latin as accentus.[5] He gives as an example:

So where you lodge is a house? / Yes. (Ἆρά γ´ ἐστὶ τὸ οὗ καταλύεις οἰκία; Ναί.)

And "you don't lodge" is the negation of "you lodge"? / Yes. (Οὐκοῦν τὸ ‘οὐ καταλύεις’ τοῦ ‘καταλύεις’ ἀπόφασις; Ναί.)

And you said that where you lodge is a house. Therefore a house is a negation. (Ἔφησας δ´ εἶναι τὸ οὗ καταλύεις οἰκίαν· ἡ οἰκία ἄρα ἀπόφασις.)

The fallacy turns here on the varying pronunciation of ου, meaning "where" in the first and third occurrence, and "not" in the second. These would later be distinguished in writing with diacritics, but they were not in Aristotle's time.[5]

Aristotle noted that fallacies of this form were rare in contemporary Greek, and they are rarer still in languages like English that have fewer heteronyms. Accordingly English commentary has tended either to omit the fallacy or to reinterpret it as a fallacy of varying word emphasis. By varying the emphasis in "All men are created equal," for example, one might argue that men (not women) are created equal, or that men are created (but do not remain) equal. Broadening the fallacy in this manner has met with occasional criticism.[6]

See also


  1. ^ a b Damer, T. Edward (2009), Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-free Arguments (6th ed.), Wadsworth, pp. 126–128, ISBN 978-0-495-09506-4
  2. ^ Fischer, D. H. (1970), Historians' Fallacies: Toward A Logic of Historical Thought, Harper torchbooks (first ed.), New York: HarperCollins, pp. 271–274, ISBN 978-0-06-131545-9, OCLC 185446787
  3. ^ Engel, S. Morris (1994), Fallacies and Pitfalls of Language: The Language Trap, Courier Dover Publications, pp. 24–30, ISBN 978-0-486-28274-9
  4. ^ Ruiz, Roberto (2019). "Accent". In Arp, Robert; Barbone, Steven; Bruce, Michael (eds.). Bad Arguments: 100 of the most important fallacies in Western Philosophy. Wiley Blackwell. pp. 241–246. ISBN 9781119167907.
  5. ^ a b Ebbesen, Sten (1981), Commentators and Commentaries on Aristotle's Sophistici Elenchi: A Study of Post-Aristotelian Ancient and Medieval Writings on Fallacies, Brill Archive, pp. 8, 81, 187–189, ISBN 90-04-06297-1
  6. ^ Walton, Douglas (2013). Fallacies Arising from Ambiguity.