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Is there a word that describe a person who doesn't "practice what they preach"? Basically, is there a synonym for "hypocrite" that carries less pejorative connotations?

For example, let's say a friend of mine says he is a Christian. Yet he engages in behaviors considered sins by the Bible, making him a hypocrite. And I would like to tell him I think he is a hypocrite.

What would be a good word to use here, so my criticism seems constructive rather than offensive?


  • I tried using a thesaurus, but the synonyms that came up were even worse (ie: they are more offensive than "hypocrite").

  • Related (but different) question: Alternatives to "Hypocrite", which asks what to call someone who knows they are in the group of people they criticize.

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Can you please give a context? –  simchona Nov 30 '11 at 21:33
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@simchona Say you want to criticize someone who you think is a hypocrite. What word should you use so it comes across as constructive, rather than offensive? –  Orion Nov 30 '11 at 21:37
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possible duplicate of Alternatives to "Hypocrite" –  Mitch Nov 30 '11 at 23:08
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@Mitch: Oh. It got closed as "not constructive" anyway. For what it's worth, I think your disingenuous on the earlier question is perfectly good here too. –  FumbleFingers Nov 30 '11 at 23:40
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Sir, I think you are being untrue to yourself. –  Phillip Ngan Dec 8 '11 at 0:53

6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Two alternatives come to mind:

I. Hypocritical (as an adjective)

Example: "I think you are being hypocritical."

I view using the adjective as less confrontational because it attacks the behavior, not the person.

II. Not walking the walk (the idiom)

I think this is softer too because it's usually used in lighter conversation, and thus has less of a knee-jerk reaction.

Example: "I don't think you walk the walk." (still a bit blunt though)

Starting with a question

In either case, you might consider phrasing the statement as a question instead to soften it up further.

Example: "Do you think you're being hypocritical?"

Example: "Do you feel you walk the walk?"

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+1 for correct use of the phrase "Walk the walk". I hates it when people say "Walk the talk". Hates it! sssss! –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 1 '11 at 3:54

Describing the person as inconsistent might be one option.

Since most people will agree that being a hypocrite is a bad thing, I believe that a "softer" word that means the same thing will still be offensive. I suggest that a softening of meaning is required, and perhaps some obfuscation.


Responding to comments:

I argue that inconsistent it is not "essentially synonymous" with hypocrite which dictionary.com defines as:

(1) a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.

To declare someone a hypocrite is therefore to pass judgement on one's motives and character. On the other hand, none of us are entirely consistent unless we have ceased to be. Calling to attention divergence between past statements and present action does not inherently pass judgement, though it implicitly calls for explanation. Changed beliefs, failure of will, obliviousness, etc., are plausible. Depending on his response (verbal and otherwise), no further confrontation may be required.

On the other hand, I believe the meaning is sufficiently clear because one fairly obvious explanation for inconsistency is hypocrisy, especially in context. Further I believe that an actual hypocrite will infer this meaning quite clearly unless he is self deluded.

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+1. There is no such thing as a person who is totally consistent, so if I was told that I am inconsistent, I would not take offence. –  AlbeyAmakiir Dec 1 '11 at 2:50
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I think the second part of your answer is the right answer here: Saying "You are being inconsistent" is essentially synonymous with saying "You are a hypocrite" (assuming we have established the context), but is far milder. –  Jay Dec 1 '11 at 6:27
    
@Jay I argue that it is not "essentially synonymous." dictionary.com for hypocrite: (1) a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs. To declare someone a hypocrite is therefore to pass judgement on one's motives and character. On the other hand, none of us are entirely consistent unless we have ceased to be. (continued) –  Mr.Wizard Dec 1 '11 at 14:36
    
Calling to attention divergence between past statements and present action does not inherently pass judgement, though it implicitly calls for explanation. Changed beliefs, failure of will, obliviousness, etc., are plausible. Depending on his response (verbal and otherwise), no further confrontation may be required. –  Mr.Wizard Dec 1 '11 at 14:48
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I like inconsistent. "Your actions are inconsistent with your beliefs/words", works perfectly. –  ThinkingStiff Dec 11 '11 at 18:43

I think the word pretender carries less negative connotations than hypocrite.

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Possibly. But a hypocrite need not claim to do as prescribed (e.g., tells you to work hard while (s)he relaxes) and a pretender need not advocate the action (attempting to appear to do work while actually accomplishing nothing). –  Charles Nov 30 '11 at 21:41
    
@Charles: You might be right. But I think the difference lies elsewhere too. A hypocrite is more connected to moral standards (which he/she doesn't have), whereas a pretender isn't. That's why calling someone a hypocrite is more offensive. –  Irene Nov 30 '11 at 21:47
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If I say "I am the King of France!" then I am a pretender. If I say "I think all kings should renounce their thrones" and somebody points out "But you're the King of France" and I don't renounce my throne, then I am a hypocrite. Pardon. Then WE are hypocrites. –  Michael Paulukonis Nov 30 '11 at 21:57
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@MichaelPaulukonis: +1, great comment. Interesting question at the end: Does the King of France say "We are hypocrites" or "We are a hypocrite"? –  Nate Eldredge Dec 1 '11 at 5:30
    
@NateEldredge - that bothered us all night long, it seeming a little funny. But then we remembered, "We are not amused." See also: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Majestic_plural –  Michael Paulukonis Dec 1 '11 at 13:50

The word faker might work in some contexts, although it isn't strictly synonymous with hypocrite.

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I don't see how that's less negative than hypocrite (just less formal) but I'd be equally insulted if I were called either. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Dec 1 '11 at 4:36

"Prejudice with a halo", to quote Ambrose Bierce.

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I think the word "hypocrite" is being misused. Everyone uses it now to refer to someone that doesn't practice what they preach. This is not quite its meaning. Being a hypocrite requires only that you try and appear to be what you are not. Not practicing what you preach can fall into this, but hypocrisy is more about deception in general.

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protected by RegDwigнt Mar 19 '12 at 13:58

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