what·​about·​ism ˌ(h)wä-tə-ˈbau̇-ˌti-zəm How to pronounce whataboutism (audio)
plural whataboutisms
: the act or practice of responding to an accusation of wrongdoing by claiming that an offense committed by another is similar or worse
The exchange is indicative of a rhetorical strategy known as whataboutism, which occurs when officials implicated in wrongdoing whip out a counter-example of a similar abuse from the accusing country, with the goal of undermining the legitimacy of the criticism itself.Olga Khazan
By whataboutism I mean the way any discussion can be short-circuited by saying "but what about x???" where x is usually something that's not really equivalent but is close enough to turn the conversation into mush.Touré
also : the response itself
They accomplish it by muddying the waters and distracting from international criticisms with whataboutisms such as telling the world that there's nothing exceptional about America. Alex Zeldin

called also (chiefly British) whataboutery

Examples of whataboutism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web These whataboutisms can go on and on without changing anyone’s mind. Cnn.com Wire Service, The Mercury News, 14 May 2024 The tactics of lying, whataboutism, distraction, and insults may succeed on NewsMax or in the pages of the Federalist. Time, 14 Aug. 2023 Or, in another of Fox’s favorite whataboutisms, hosts and commentators often attempt to equate the Trump probe with the revelation that classified documents were found in Biden’s Washington, DC, office and Wilmington, Delaware, home. Allison Morrow, CNN, 14 June 2023 The network’s personalities went into full whataboutism mode as soon as the indictments were announced. Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic, 12 June 2023 And all while deploying a familiar tactic of whataboutism, responding to questions about Russia by pointing out flaws within the systems of the U.S. and its allies. NBC News, 17 June 2021 After each new incitement, G.O.P. leaders have gone through the familiar cycle: consternation, equivocation, whataboutism, and, finally, full capitulation. Andrew Marantz, The New Yorker, 6 Nov. 2022 Bullies and Saints is no exercise in whataboutism. Tristan Abbey, National Review, 23 May 2021 During the campaign, Biden’s broad, if vague, assurances that Washington could be redeemed effectively contrasted with Trump’s undisguised politico creed—a jumble of whataboutism, contempt for human rights and American ambition, a Putinist assumption that everyone operates in bad faith. Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, 20 Jan. 2022

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'whataboutism.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


what about [X]? + -ism

First Known Use

1978, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of whataboutism was in 1978

Dictionary Entries Near whataboutism

Cite this Entry

“Whataboutism.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/whataboutism. Accessed 29 May. 2024.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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