Consider a situation where I ask a person some questions about some past issues and the person is being dishonest or lying or escaping the main point or cooking up a lot of words to say so to avoid touching on the main topic

What could be a single word for this? Could I say, "please don't put up a smokescreen?"

Is that a correct usage of the word smokescreen, or could there be a better or more appropriate word

  • 1
    It's funny how your first sentence is almost an example of what you're trying to explain :)
    – Joachim
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 11:16

6 Answers 6


A metaphorical 'smokescreen' is something that hides a truth by obscuring it, causing confusion, or misleading the listener. For example, a lie about your whereabouts might be a 'smokescreen' to hide your true whereabouts.

We tend to use 'smokescreen' metaphorically as a noun for the misleading information, for example:

His story was just a smokescreen.

Simply avoiding talking about something is not really a smokescreen - that is just being evasive. If they are lying, you might say they are misleading you, or being disingenuous (to pretend to know less about a matter than you do). If they are trying to make you believe something contrary to what you already know to be true, a popular term for this is 'gaslighting'.

  • 2
    Note that gaslighting isn't just about getting them to believe that specific lie - it's about getting them to doubt their own senses/memory/sanity so you can manipulate them better.
    – MJD
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 22:52
  • @MJD agreed, but if you already know something to be true, that's your reality, right? And if the target recognises it as gaslighting then they aren't manipulated, but it's still gaslighting.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 8:21
  • @Astralbee Gaslighting seems to be an interesting word. I wonder what its origin may be.
    – chintu
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 8:35
  • @chintu it is derived from the title of a 1940s movie 'Gaslight' in which a person is psychologically manipulated. I agree with the comment that it originally meant that specific kind of behaviour, not just everyday lying. But through overuse, words gain a broader meaning. Like the word 'troll' used to mean a lurker with a 'devil's advocate' style of argument on internet forums, within a few years it came to just mean an internet bully. Likewise, I'm arguing that 'gaslighting' often just means lying to change someone's accepted view of something, not only a sustained campaign of it.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 9:01

There is prevaricate but it isn't a word in everyday use.

Lexico has


Speak or act in an evasive way.
he seemed to prevaricate when journalists asked pointed questions

A word in more general (British) use is flannel

Lexcio has


Use bland fluent talk to avoid addressing a difficult subject or situation directly.
She tried to flannel her way out of it, but it just seemed worse.


I would say:

Quit beating around the bush and say what's on your mind.

I think whether telling them to "Stop putting up a smokescreen" is appropriate or not depends on the situation. Putting up a smokescreen implies that the person has done something wrong and is now trying to hide it or take attention away from it. Also, all the example sentences containing the word "smoke screen" are about formal/legal issues such as illegal activities done by a city council, a political campaign, etc. It wouldn't make much sense to use such a formal phrase to talk about mundane issues. It would sound funny. Here are some examples of the kinds of sentences/situations in which the word has been used:

Instead of doing something about the problem, the city council is hiding behind a smokescreen of bureaucracy.

His campaign promises were just a smoke screen. The truth was hidden behind a smoke screen of lies.

He was accused of putting up a smokescreen to hide poor standards in schools.


[...] escaping the main point or cooking up a lot of words to say so to avoid touching on the main topic [...]

Deflecting or evasive could also work here, if you want the emphasis to be on refusing to answer the question rather than outright lying. "Stop deflecting" or "stop being evasive" both boil down to "stop changing the subject and avoiding answering; actually address the question at hand." Deflecting has more of a connotation of changing the subject (i.e. deflecting the conversation to something adjacent).


Tiny addition to the existing answers: in British English, there's "waffle" to describe a specific sub-genre of your scenario - one where there's no lying, just saying a lot of words without any content.

to talk or write a lot without giving any useful information or any clear answers

For example,

Stop waffling!

(Note that the verb "waffle" in American English instead appears to be a synonym of "dither", which would not be an appropriate word in your context.)


Colloquially, you could use "dodge". Others have addressed smokescreen, but you could simply say:

Please don't dodge the question.

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