Mostly I see the usage of word Alibi in a negative context especially in the legal parlance. Following is the definition from Oxford Dictionaries:


1 a claim or piece of evidence that one was elsewhere when an act, typically a criminal one, is alleged to have taken place.
'she has an alibi for the whole of yesterday evening'

1.1 informal An excuse or pretext.
'a catch-all alibi for failure and inadequacy'

[with object]

informal Provide an alibi for.
'her friend agreed to alibi her'

Idea of usage is, where internal quality of a human being / noun is depicted via another masquerading quality:

"Ambitious" is a convenient alibi for the "Ruthless"

Note: Two answers were based on a previous version of this phrase that read "Playful is an alibi for the Smart."

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    Aside from the fact I don't think it will work that way even in general terms, "Playful is an alibi for the Smart" means absolutely nothing to me. I cannot extract your intent from it at all. Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 11:06
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    You should never quote a Google search. It's not a reliable quotation, and it will produce different results for different people. I have replaced your quotation with the definition given by Oxford Dictionaries—which seems to be where most of your text came from. Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 11:42
  • I also added back the original version of your phrase in a notation since two existing answers based themselves on it. (Otherwise, people might downvote them for thinking they aren't relevant to your question.) Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 11:49
  • @JasonBassford thank you for the correction, still learning how to ask the questions in a correct and clear way Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 11:49
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    To me, it sounds like somebody is mistaking "alibi" for "alias". "Ambitious is an alias for (the) Ruthless" sounds correct' "Ambitious is an alibi for (the) Ruthless" doesn't. Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 14:19

2 Answers 2


"Alibi" is actually neutral, and the only reason you think it's negative is that it most often appears in legal drama to explain why the authorities can't arrest someone who the audience already know is guilty. In real life, the police routinely rule out suspects to a crime who have perfectly legitimate alibis.

It's a logical stretch, however, to turn "alibi" into a positive, since it's literally an excuse why someone could not have perpetrated some negative act. You would not say someone has an alibi for why they couldn't have done some good deed, for example:

I wonder who brought donuts into the office this morning? It can't be Jimmy, he has the alibi that he's out sick.

Instead you would simply say that it can't be Jimmy because he's out sick.

In any case, "alibi" does not mean "synonym". Instead just say "means", or possibly, "is code for", to suggest a term has hidden connotations.

In this context, "ambitious" is code for "ruthless".

There are many such phrases. For example, my wife used to work for a well-known self-help coach who told them that when he said someone was an "aggressive go-getter" it was code for "ball-busting bastard".

Better watch out for the new manager. He's an aggressive go-getter who will make your life a living hell.

  • Please review the edit, re-worded the last part with a different example Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 11:30
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    +1! Although obviously in your doughnut example, there's the potential for humour there, but it's not worth bringing that up in the answer, it would only muddy the waters
    – Au101
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 13:07
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    @Au101 It would probably be funnier if the situation was framed as a negative, e.g. *"I wonder who brought these donuts into the office? I think someone is trying to fatten us up. It can't be Jimmy ..."
    – Andrew
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 16:45
  • @MrinalKamboj edited, but it's kind of the same either way.
    – Andrew
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 16:52

Context is everything, and I wouldn't dare to claim that you can't use "alibi" in a positive or ironic way.

That said, with its strong connotations with criminal proceedings, the word alibi will tend to color whatever you need an alibi for rather negatively. And in my opinion, it's going to be rather difficult to subvert that negative undertone.

Your example sentence makes me think that you consider being smart to be something rather shameful - probably not what you intend to communicate.

  • Please review the edit, re-worded the last part with a different example Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 11:30
  • @MrinalKamboj that works, although it's no longer a positive. Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 11:40
  • Yes not positive but also not negative, therefore neutral in my view Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 11:50

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