play devil's advocate / throw a wet blanket over

Discussion in 'English Only' started by redgiant, Feb 19, 2012.

  1. redgiant Senior Member

    Cantonese, Hong Kong
    A dictionary defines the phrase as "Fig. to put forward arguments against or objections to a proposition-which one may actually agree with-purely to test the validity of the proposition." source.

    Do you think "throw a wet blanket over their team's success" would also work in this context, considering that the coach was trying not to let the success went to the players' heads and keep their feet on the ground?
  2. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    No. "to play devil's advocate" and "to throw a wet blanket over" are quite distinct and bear no relation to each other, therefore they will give different meanings to the passage.
  3. exgerman Senior Member

    English but my first language was German
    To me, through a wet blanket is much too negative. It means that the coach really wants the players to lose.

    A devil's advocate tries to throw up objections, but in the hope that they will be proved false. The coach is badmouthing his players, not because he believes that, but because he wants all the objections openly stated so that they can be invalidated.

    it comes from the procedures used to validate saints in the Catholic church, which were like a trial, one side making a case for sainthood, the other one (the lawyer for the devil) making a case against.
  4. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I confess, I find "play devil's advocate with the team's success" quite odd: "throw a wet blanket over" seems rather better to me.....

    I'm not sure what I'd use, myself:rolleyes:
  5. redgiant Senior Member

    Cantonese, Hong Kong
    Thanks PaulQ, exgerman and Loob.

    In the spirit of improving the team, the coach didn't try to find faults in the team, but throw up possible objections to let the team think about or take note of them?
  6. exgerman Senior Member

    English but my first language was German
    He said bad things about the team. He wanted the players to show him why the bad things were not true.
  7. Parla Member Emeritus

    New York City
    English - US
    Wet blankets depress spirits; no coach would take that approach.

    In playing devil's advocate (forget the sainthood arguments; the term is used more loosely in idiomatic English), the coach picks up possible, perhaps minor, flaws in the players' performance because his aim is perfection; as he says, he wants the players to continue to develop their skills.
  8. redgiant Senior Member

    Cantonese, Hong Kong
    Thanks Parla. Can a guy pretend to play devil's advocate, trying to manipulate someone into following your own idea? Here is the context:

    My friend and I are working on a Social Science assignment. My friend puts out an idea that does not sit well with me. To avoid a direct confrontation, I try playing devil's advocate, testing and exposing the faults of the idea. When he fails at invalidating my oppositions and is starting to feel unsure, I proceed to persuade him to discard his idea.
  9. Parla Member Emeritus

    New York City
    English - US
    No, that's not playing devil's advocate. That's demolishing something you don't like little by little instead of telling your friend right away that you think his idea is awful. You're perhaps letting him down easy.
  10. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southern England
    English - England
    I disagree with Parla here, Redgiant.

    I think your quote in #8 is mostly fine, but it's not trying to play devil's advocate, it's actually playing devil's advocate. The key point in the argument is badly put, however: When he fails at invalidating my oppositions:cross:. I'd prefer to say When he fails to defend his position, or, if we must, When he fails to invalidate my objections.

    The passage seems to me to explain the value of playing devil's advocate very well. In many committees it's helpful to have someone who will put the argument against a generally-held view before the committe decides on something important, so that the advantages of the majority opinion can be fully presented and clarified.
  11. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

    I think the difference is that someone playing devil's advocate does not start out with the idea that the other person's position is wrong, as redgiant appears to think in his explanation. A devil's advocate is not looking to defeat the idea put forth, only to test it for any weaknesses or lack of preparation in order to flesh it out and make it more solid when it is presented before any opposition.

    I don't think "devil's advocate" fits redgiant's situation. He knows from the beginning that the person's position is faulty or wrong and is systematically dismantling it through questioning. That can be an effective (though sometimes harsh) teaching technique, but it's not the same role as a devil's advocate, in my opinion.
  12. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southern England
    English - England
    I think James explains this very well. Playing devil's advocate is not to perform a negative role in a discussion, though if you don't warn people, they may get that impression. It's not a way of demolishing an argument, but rather of attacking it to check that it can withstand criticism. That's not to say that the process may not reveal weaknesses in the argument; that is, after all, one of its functions. If you don't know what the weaknesses are, you cannot easily deal with them.
  13. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    Unfortunately, this is not very well expressed.
    (What is an inherent job? How do you play advocate with success?)
    As a matter of language (how words interrelate), better would be:
    'It is inherent in the job of head coach to play devil's advocate to a successful team.'

    But even then 'play devil's advocate' is not really appropriate. The coach is not trying to prove that the team is either good or bad. He's trying to make them improve continuously even when they are winning, focussing on flaws and room for improvement even in victories, to achieve even higher performance.

    Playing devil's advocate is about arguing a case, not coaching. As already explained, it is the process of putting counter-arguments to test the validity of a case.
    The outcome of playing devil's advocate is either that the case is proved sound, or that it is proved unsound: either way, the activity of playing devil's advocate has succeeded. (As with any test: whatever the result, the test itself has succeeded.)
    But the activity of coaching only succeeds if it helps the team improve.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2012

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