I'm looking for a term in English to describe being so polite that one appears to be insincere.
This is a good page which may be helpful to you. My picks would be the following:
- smarmy: using societal constraints/rules (i.e. politeness) to passive-aggresively/non-confrontationally get one's way. That's my interpretation, but here's an article about it.
- oily/greasy: like a businessman or shopkeeper or something who dotes on clients/customers so heavily (and maybe crosses personal-space boundaries in so doing) that it's almost viscerally unpleasant.
- obsequious: I would say that obsequious is more subtle than the others, but again, that's my interpretation. Look for uses in books or something.
I disagree with the MacMillan page on the following points:
- 'Suave' I take to mean smooth, well-dressed, and having nice things, with no connotation of insincerity.
- 'Proper' I take to mean stiff or rigid politeness; again, not necessarily insincere (cranky people besotted with their rules can be sincere!)
I like unctuous...
unc·tu·ous [uhngk-choo-uhs] adjective 1. characterized by excessive piousness or moralistic fervor, especially in an affected manner; excessively smooth, suave, or smug.
1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of sugar or saccharin; sweet.
2. Having a cloyingly sweet attitude, tone, or character: a saccharine smile.
Literally, it is a chemical that is an artificial sweetener. Figuratively, it can be used to describe a person or action that is so sweet it seems to be artificial.
There is fawning which means displaying exaggerated flattery or affection. There is also feigned politeness which means simulated or pretended; insincere. Which brings us full circle to insincere.
Ingratiate/ingratiating - trying to bring oneself into favour with someone by flattery.
or maybe Obsequious/ness - being overly polite, and over ready to comply with the desires of others.
Cloying. I just read this in an online article, and it's exactly the word I couldn't come up with earlier.
'Fake'. Its one of those words. It is a bit wide in its use and ambiguous without enough context. It conveys ulterior motive on part of the faker. It also conveys that the observer is smart enough to see through the facade.
In conversation, I would probably have used over-polite as the term.
Looking up on google, I see the word mannered fits quite well:
- "formal in a way that is intended to impress other people"
Not seen sycophantic mentioned yet.
It's not a standard word, but hyperpolite would be understood, perhaps with the connotation of a socially inept person trying to do the right thing but going over the top, rather than of an obsequious person trying to ingratiate himself.
I like "disingenuous." Although this word can mean "insincere," I generally associate disingenuous behavior with pretext behavior which, if I understand your question, is exactly what you are looking for. And there's another word, maybe. "Pretext."
You haven't noted whether or not it is the speaker's intent to be insincere.
Along those lines, I would suggest that one could purposefully be overly polite - and when veiled in thick sarcasm, the speaker would certainly come across as insincere.
Try: adipose, greasy, oily, fat, fatty, oleaginous, pinguid, sebaceous, blandish, lubricious, smooth, slippery, fawning, glib, obsequious, plausible, servile, suave, sycophantic, fervid, gushing.
There should be something there that fits!
I would like to suggest "fulsome":
"Although the earliest use of fulsome (first recorded in the 13th century) was ‘generous or abundant’, this meaning is now regarded by some people as wrong. The correct meaning today is held to be ‘excessively complimentary or flattering’. However, the word is still often used in its original sense of ‘abundant’, especially in sentences such as she was fulsome in her praise for the people who organized it, and this use can give rise to ambiguity: for one speaker, fulsome praise may be a genuine compliment, whereas for others it will be interpreted as an insult."
Insincerity, whether it is purposeful or not does not matter people. The point is the person appears to be insincere due to exaggerated amount of politeness. Its unknown the person's reasons for the overkindliness.
Unctuous is the the best post thus far and smarmy is the next. Both, however, do not state whether the person appears insincere. Simply that the person is being overly polite.
I don't believe there is such a word as the question is asking for. Unctuous could be used like this to reach the same affect as the question asked: Their unctuous behavior made them appear insincere.
I haven't seen condescending mentioned. having or showing a feeling of patronizing superiority
Charles Dickens created one of the best architypes for this behaviour in his book David Copperfield. His villainous, fawning character is "Uriah Heep".
Reading about Uriah Heep will give you great insight and vocabulary in the description of this character.
The word you need is "smarmy"--or at least that's what the Oxford advanced Learner's Dictionary suggests.
protected by FumbleFingers Jan 24 '14 at 23:27
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