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May I call someone or a post "naive"?

To me it sounds like this is violating the Code of Conduct.

No name-calling or personal attacks.

Focus on the content, not the person. This includes terms that feel personal even when they're applied to content (e.g. “lazy”).

Although you can apply the adjective to a text, it's clearly associated with the author. Another example would be "This text is ill-tempered", which formally is describing the text, whereas the author must be ill-tempered himself to write it. Besides that it's not helping to discuss the topic.

As I'm not a native English speaker I would like to clarify it here, in case it has a different connotation than in my language.

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    Directed at someone it's a very mild disparagement. Depends on the context I suppose. If in doubt, don't use it. – Kilisi Apr 5 at 14:04
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    Calling someone naive in this stack is a fairly serious insult, It's essentially saying that they don't know what they are talking about, or don't understand how things work. I would avoid it, as it will not be taken well. – Old_Lamplighter Apr 5 at 15:17
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    I would not recommend it. – Neo Apr 6 at 11:42
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The text you quote is fairly clear to me: "Focus on the content, not the person". Any statement that amounts to "You are X" when X is a negative quality is rarely going to be a good thing to say here. But if you say something like "Doing this would make you X" or "It would be X to proceed without..." instead focuses on the behaviour.

Imagine an OP who posts a question because she didn't run a company-standard background check on someone she thought was very trustworthy and it comes back to bite her after she hired them. Posts that say "You're so naive, you shouldn't have done that." are not constructive and would likely get removed. Same for any comment saying "How naive." which would get a rude/abusive flag from me.

But it's different if an answer says "It was naive to just trust this person, you should have still followed procedure. In future do A and B to...". That just describes the situation and the assessment is on the actions taken by the OP, not their character. Even something like "you were too naive here" is still fine, provided the answer focuses on giving advice to learn from the experience or do better next time. Any post that instead focuses on pointing out some perceived failure of the OP or their character for no constructive reason is really nothing more than a veiled insult.

A useful test is to see whether you would describe what you're saying as "calling them X" rather than "describing behaviour as X". The former is not appropriate here.

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Calling someone 'naive' would likely be misconstrued as insulting. This answer to May I use “naive” to mean “inexperienced”? on the English Language Learners stack explains:

Naive (adjective) or naivety (noun) carry more a sense of attitude than of experience.
If you are naive, you tend to:

  • believe everything you are told
  • believe that people are good
  • be easily tricked.

Whether that would be considered a violation of the Code of Conduct would depend on the context, but it probably would be considered (at worst) more "unfriendly" than a personal attack.

In general, when we are communicating in text (instead of face to face) with strangers, we should be extra careful to not assign qualities or motivations to someone. We don't know who is on the other side of the computer screen, or what they were thinking or feeling as they were typing. It's very easy to guess incorrectly.

We don't have to characterize a post's tone or perspective to criticize it constructively. Instead of "I think your approach is ridiculous. Dogs don't understand what 'Be a good dog.' means." we can say something like "I don't think this approach will work very well. Most dogs need to be trained what they're allowed to chew on, not just told to 'be good'.

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  • Yes, I think it's too mild on it's own to be considered a violation. So the context is what matters more. – Kilisi Apr 5 at 21:52
  • "Calling someone 'naive' would likely be misconstrued as insulting" it should be "Calling someone 'naive' would likely be interpreted as insulting." – mhoran_psprep Apr 6 at 10:41
  • @mhoran_psprep The author is not a native English speaker, so I interpreted the question as being partly about wanting to use a translated word that isn’t insulting in their native language. If it was intended to be insulting, the question would be pointless. So, “misconstrue” (or “misinterpret”) is exactly what I meant. – ColleenV Apr 6 at 11:10
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    "I think your approach is really naive". To me, this isn't the same than calling directly someone "naive". – Walfrat Apr 7 at 7:56
  • @Walfrat I agree. I wanted to make a different point about applying labels to a post when criticizing it. I changed the wording to make that clearer. – ColleenV Apr 7 at 10:40
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Most times I see the word naive there is an implied restriction on the context.

Person A: "I think interviews are a waste of time"

Person B: "You're naive"

Person B is not saying that Person A is naive in every circumstance. The implied statement is "You're naive to think that". Which simply means they lack some bit of information or experience that would otherwise change their mind. It's not necessarily a judgement on character, like calling somebody stupid.

But English is not everybody's first language, and even some people won't make the distinction.

Far better to address what is said, rather than who it is said by, as the other answers have pointed out.

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  • In typical usage, “naive” doesn’t just mean “inexperienced” any more than “ignorant” simply means “uninformed”. I understand why some people feel like others should assume that they’re using the neutral dictionary definition, but language doesn’t work that way. If your example was the only context I had, I would interpret B’s comment as an unfriendly remark about A’s character. – ColleenV Apr 6 at 19:42

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