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I'm somewhat vexed in that I cannot think of a word that means a "promise breaker" or "person who breaks a promise". There are words that may subsume that, such as "miscreant" or "liar", but I cannot come up with an English word that is limited to a person who breaks promises.

The closest I've come is "piker", which is (a) informal and (b) limited to Australia/NZ, but means (according to the dictionary on my Mac):

a person who withdraws from a commitment.

Is there a more formal and common word that can be used to refer to people who break promises?

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What about disloyal? –  N.N. Oct 5 '11 at 15:17
    
@N.N. aside from /disloyal/ seeming to relate more to allegiance than obligation, /disloyal/ is an adjective not a noun. (A person is not "a disloyal", though they may be "a piker"). Good thought, though. –  Brian M. Hunt Oct 5 '11 at 15:28
    
Are you looking for a single word that covers both willful (liar) and non-willful (flake) cases? Or just one of those? –  Monica Cellio Oct 5 '11 at 15:45
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"Liar" is the word that comes to mind in a willful context (e.g., "Most politicians are liars!"). "Dishonoured" or "failed" are two words that come to mind in a non-willful context (e.g., "the payment was dishonoured by insufficient funds in the bank account" and "the new employee failed to arrive at the office on time," respectively). –  Randolf Richardson Oct 5 '11 at 17:07
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@Randolf: But "liar" is more general. If I say, "Bob took your book" when it was really me who did it, I am a liar, but I have not broken any promise. –  Jay Oct 7 '11 at 16:47
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8 Answers 8

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Reneger:

renege, renegue vb (intr; often foll by on)
to go back (on one's promise, etc.)
reneger , reneguer n

Reneger vs. oath breaker ngram:

ngram of 'reneger' and 'oath breaker' 1920-2010, reneger leading in use approx 1960, oath breaker leading in use approx 1930s and early 2000s

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"Renege" is indeed the conventional verb to use for this idea. But while the dictionary lists "reneger" as a noun, I'm hard-pressed to recall ever seeing it used in real text. (Not that I can think of an alternative word.) –  Jay Oct 5 '11 at 17:54
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That's what happens with "one word" requests. There may be none that is well-known. –  GEdgar Oct 5 '11 at 18:51
    
I don't think we're going to get any closer than this. –  Brian M. Hunt Oct 5 '11 at 18:57
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I would highly advise against using this word in converstation unless you have complete faith in your ability to pronounce it properly and clearly. It is just way too close to this word: english.stackexchange.com/questions/9824/… –  T.E.D. Oct 5 '11 at 19:35
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@KarlKnechtel Sometimes I wonder if the percentages on some of these ngrams aren't so small as to effectively make them noise graphs. –  T.E.D. Oct 6 '11 at 13:18
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A personal favorite slang term for an unreliable person is a flake. A flake says they are going to do something and then they don't follow through. The definition is not limited to promise breaking, however.

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Yeah, not limited to promise breaker, but it's a good word in the context though. My mother used the word "flakey" a lot. –  Brian M. Hunt Oct 5 '11 at 15:23
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Is it okay to refer to an unreliable corn farmer as a "corn flake?" ;D –  Randolf Richardson Oct 5 '11 at 17:16
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There's "oathbreaker". It isn't very common these days though.

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Not in regular speech... way common in fantasy literature, though. –  neminem Aug 16 '13 at 18:24
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Warlock - if you're into really Old English:

Middle English warloghe, from Old English wrloga, oath-breaker : wr, pledge; see wr-o- in Indo-European roots + -loga, liar (from logan, to lie; see leugh- in Indo-European roots).

(Note: the link originally went to Wikipedia's Warlock, which had a brief description, including roughly the oathbreaker meaning. Apparently the word has changed, to a D&D character...)

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Wow. Great find. –  Brian M. Hunt Oct 6 '11 at 23:18
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I love this as a historical meaning. However, today it is pretty much universally understood to be "somebody (typically male) who practices magic". If you try to use it for the meaning above, you will probably be misunderstood. –  T.E.D. Aug 16 '13 at 18:15
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This may be US specific, but I have used Welcher used for promises as well as bets.

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It's not US only, but it's slang and is best avoided as it can be offensive to Welsh people. etymonline.com/index.php?term=welch boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=417491 –  Hugo Oct 5 '11 at 16:59
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I remember someone once using the word "gypped" in high school, which caused one girl to object -- she explained that she is of Gypsy heritage and that this word reflects poorly on her background in an unjust manner. (I thought she made a fair point, and out of respect for people in general I've made an effort to eliminate these sorts of words from my casual speech as I discover their meanings; this has been a challenge because I've never encountered a list of such words.) –  Randolf Richardson Oct 5 '11 at 17:13
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@RandolfRichardson That might make a good question ... –  Brian M. Hunt Oct 5 '11 at 19:09
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@RandolfRichardson: Great attempt; I'm sorry for the reaction it got, but I do think it was a great idea. I wonder if someday it'll be revived and accepted. –  Brian M. Hunt Oct 6 '11 at 14:06
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@Brian M. Hunt: Once you mentioned it I thought "yeah, that would be a good question" but I guess both of us are still "learning the ropes" around here. :) –  Randolf Richardson Oct 7 '11 at 19:53
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A more formal version of OP's suggested word Piker is Defaulter

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Let me add forsworn. Which is one of those words with two opposite senses, as "He forswore alcohol," with the sense of making the promise followed by "He went on a drunken bender and was forsworn."

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I call someone who breaks a promise to me a betrayer. But "reneger" is probably a better choice.

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Betrayal is too strong a word unless the promise was something very important and personal; Brian said nothing to indicate that the offending person would necessarily have broken so important a trust. –  itsbruce Aug 16 '13 at 18:53
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