According to Wikipedia:

Hypocrisy is the state of falsely claiming to possess virtuous characteristics that one lacks. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie. Hypocrisy is not simply failing to practice those virtues that one preaches.

According to a "define: hypocrisy" google search:

the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behaviour does not conform; pretense.

If I am a smoker, and I claim that smoking is terrible, nobody should smoke.

By the wikipedia definition, I would not call this hypocrisy, by the google definition I would. Am I reading the english wrong here?

The smoker still smokes, which does not conform with his said beliefs, however wikipedia says "Hypocrisy is not simply failing to practice those virtues that one preaches."

Can anybody help me really understand these definitions?

  • 1
    If the person says "Smoking is something nobody should do" while leaving / encouraging the impression that he doesn't (perhaps by the tone of voice) - whilst being a smoker - he's a hypocrite. If the person says "Smoking is something nobody should do; I've tried to quit six times" he's not (assuming he genuinely has tried). Dec 16, 2013 at 19:39
  • Why was this downvoted?
    – Cruncher
    Dec 17, 2013 at 13:44

1 Answer 1


The crucial distinction would be why you're saying that smoking is terrible, and why you smoke yourself. These days, "smoking is terrible" usually means "smoking is dangerous"--and it's not uncommon for a smoker to decry smoking as being addictive and unhealthy and warn others not to start doing it, while at the same time being unable to quit herself. There's nothing hypocritical about that.

If a smoker were to say that smoking is terrible because it is immoral, that would be hypocritical, because he is preaching a moral standard to which he does not adhere himself. (In this case, the addictive nature of smoking makes the question a bit more complicated--I can envision someone taking up smoking at a young age, coming to believe it is wicked, but still being addicted and unable to quit. I would still consider that hypocritical, though, because he's not giving any consideration to the thought that others might be in the same predicament as him.)

  • Interesting. How about a more extreme circumstance. If you are pregnant, and addicting to smoking. You preach that it is immoral to smoke during pregnancies, but you are open with the fact that you do it anyway and cannot stop. Would you consider this hypocritical?
    – Cruncher
    Dec 16, 2013 at 20:14
  • "he is preaching a moral standard to which he does not adhere himself.". The wiki page states: "Hypocrisy is not simply failing to practice those virtues that one preaches.". These seem to be inconsistent. Is the wiki page wrong?
    – Cruncher
    Dec 16, 2013 at 20:15
  • I wouldn't call them "inconsistent;" I'd say these are two different shades of meaning. Examine Collins' definition of the word: the practice of professing standards, beliefs, etc, contrary to one's real character or actual behaviour, esp the pretence of virtue and piety. We have standards & beliefs; we have real character & actual behavior – that's four ways to look at it right there: standards vs character, beliefs vs character, standards vs behavior, and beliefs vs behavior. Throw in the "etc" and the "esp", and it can get even more complex. Many words have inherent wiggle room.
    – J.R.
    Dec 17, 2013 at 9:29

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