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Definition to think of a good excuse for behavior that seems bad or unreasonable, and to believe the excuse is good or reasonable — typically done subconsciously and often after the behavior in question

More rarely today (though more common prior to the 20th century), rationalize can mean to make reasonable or to eliminate unreasonable aspects of something. Even more specifically (especially in Great Britain), rationalize can refer to re-structuring a company to be more efficient — sometimes used as a euphemism for laying off employees (downsizing).

Rationalize also has a specialized definition in mathematics — to eliminate irrational numbers from an equation or expression without changing its value.
  • Criminals typically rationalize their behavior. Even when convicted, many blame others for their decisions.
rationalize = think of a good excuse for
  • She shouldn't have spent so much money on the shoes, but she rationalized the expenditure because they were on sale.
  • rationalized = excused (as good or reasonable)
  • I hate that I let myself fall into that mind-set of trying to rationalize his death.
    Angie Thomas  --  The Hate U Give
  • rationalize = make seem reasonable
  • Rationalize why this isn't the tape you're making a return appearance on.
    Jay Asher  --  Thirteen Reasons Why
  • rationalize = to use reason to make excuses for bad behavior
  • My uncle says the architects got rid of the front porches because they didn't look well. But my uncle says that was merely rationalizing it; the real reason, hidden underneath, might be they didn't want people sitting like that, doing nothing, rocking, talking; that was the wrong kind of social life.
    Ray Bradbury  --  Fahrenheit 451
  • rationalizing = using reason to make excuses for bad behavior
  • he rationalized his lack of success
  • rationalize the child's seemingly crazy behavior
  • She tried to convince herself that Keith was lying, grasping for a way to rationalize his news.
    Nicholas Sparks  --  The Lucky One
  • She'd always thought he was just rationalizing.
    Rick Riordan  --  The Lost Hero
  • Yes, that was definitely a case of rationalizing.
    Jostein Gaarder  --  Sophie's World
  • I acquiesced, rationalizing that it would be for only a few days.
    Betty Mahmoody  --  Not Without My Daughter
  • So the part of my brain that was rationalizing all this made me go, all nonchalantly, "Yeah, okay.
    Meg Cabot  --  The Princess Diaries
  • Or she rationalizes, "I call him when he calls me."
    Sonia Nazario  --  Enrique's Journey
  • "Is that how you rationalize it?" says Risa, "Making yourself believe we'll be happier?"
    Neal Shusterman  --  Unwind
  • He'd tried to rationalize it, in the hope of finding some more acceptable reason.
    Nicholas Evans  --  The Horse Whisperer
  • She was missing Johnny so terribly and thinking so, to rationalize his not being there.
    Betty Smith  --  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
  • The chaplain had mastered, in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalization, and he was exhilarated by his discovery.
    Joseph Heller  --  Catch-22
  • (editor's note:  The suffix "-tion", converts a verb into a noun that denotes the action or result of the verb. Typically, there is a slight change in the ending of the root verb, as in action, education, and observation.)
  • It wouldn't hurt, he rationalized, to cool off a bit before he drove into town.
    Nora Roberts  --  Summer Pleasures
  • You're rationalizing everything, and it's freaking me out."
    Becca Fitzpatrick  --  Hush, Hush
  • I was afraid I'd deliberate, ruminate, agonize, rationalize, and talk myself into not going.
    Khaled Hosseini  --  The Kite Runner

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