Does a Word Or Concise Phrase for This Concept Exist?

Is there a word or concise phrase for a situation where one breaks the rules by sticking to the exact letter of the rules but not their actual intent?

If that’s unclear let me know, I’ll try to provide an example if it’s needed.

Rules Lawyering

ETA: Perhaps “gaming the system” would work as well.

Link to relevant Wikipedia entry for letter vs spirit of the law

There are a few concise expressions of similar concepts in the “See Also” section at the bottom of that entry.

People sometimes refer to the practice of breaking the spirit of a rule by strictly interpreting it as “rules lawyering.” It’s an especially useful term for game-night when something unexpected happens due to a technicality, or an obvious grammar mistake.

For example, the earliest versions of the Magic: The Gathering card called “frozen orb” stated “A player may only untap 2 lands during their upkeep.” The obvious intent of the card is to read “All players may only…” or simply just “players may only…” but a perfectly rational “rules lawerly” reading of the card is that it only affects a single target. It had to be fixed by errata, and new editions of the card printed the correct rules.

ETA: beaten due to iPhone typing speed restriction!

‘By the book’ and similar variations is sometimes used. It’s similar to ‘slow walking’, meaning to take your time checking every detail of a process.

It looks like Rule-Book Slowdown also would apply.

You mean like intentionally planting noxious weeds all over your lawn but keeping them trimmed to say exactly 11 inches (below the length specified by city code) just to tick off your neighbor who is trying to sell his house?

Yes, I’d like to know what that word is too.

Is a work-to-rule what you have in mind, or malicious compliance?

Love that term.

“Angle Shooting” is used in poker and other games.

white mutiny, perhaps? my understanding is it means following the exact letter of the law over its intent.

This is the term I’m familiar with, and I remember first encountering it in one of Robert Heinlein’s books. It’s strict and literal compliance with orders without regard to the spirit of what was intended.

I think he talked about it in the context of a type of rebellion in the military. An officer sees an enlisted man carrying a big box and says, “Just throw that over in the corner.” He does just that, without regard for the fact that the box contained a sensitive and expensive piece of equipment.

That’s something more akin to mechanical application of a rule. The OP is asking about something different.

Yuniking. (Scroll down for entry #1 in the article.)

A white mutiny, as I understand it, is mechanical application of orders in the hopes of causing problems. In so doing, the perpetrator insulates himself from prosecution by virtue of the fact that they did exactly as instructed without adhering to the spirit of intent.

The OP said “rules” rather than orders, and the term I used comes (supposedly) from the military. But it seems pretty similar to me. Perhaps she meant a sports or game context?

The Moops.

I like “malicous compliance,” but I know this as Rules Lawyering. 99 times out of 100, the Rules Lawyer knows damn well what the intent of the rule is, and is simply trying to exploit a loophole.


From a previous thread on much the same subject: What’s the term for “legal but unsporting” tactics? “Coup de Jarnac”

A loophole is pretty similar to what’s being asked for. Generally, it’s based on exploiting something ambiguous in a contract or law, but the idea is still that you can insist that you followed every provision even while you do something contrary to the intent.