The practice of quoting out of context, sometimes referred to as “contextomy“, is a logical fallacy and a type of false attribution in which a passage is removed from its surrounding matter in such a way as to distort its intended meaning. Contextomies are stereotypically intentional, but may also occur accidentally if someone misinterprets the meaning and omits something essential to clarifying it, thinking it non-essential.
Arguments based on this fallacy typically take two forms:
- As a straw man argument, which is frequently found in politics, it involves quoting an opponent out of context in order to misrepresent their position (typically to make it seem more simplistic or extreme) in order to make it easier to refute.
- As an appeal to authority, it involves quoting an authority on the subject out of context, in order to misrepresent that authority as supporting some position.
In either case, while quoting a person out of context can be done intentionally to advance an agenda or win an argument, it is also possible to remove essential context without the aim to mislead, through not perceiving a change in meaning or implication that may result from quoting what is perceived as the essential crux of a statement.