It would be used in a sentence like this:

Let's not invite your Uncle Peter. He is (a) ......, you know, and he would feel very uncomfortable among our friends.

I'm not looking for lists.
I'm not looking for phrases that show disapproval of only one of these habits.

If someone strongly disapproves of doing something, it is obvious to me that the person doesn't do it himself, otherwise it wouldn't be genuine disapproval.

  • 1
    Strongly disapproves of doing it himself only, or strongly disapproves of anybody doing it?
    – jxh
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 1:04
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    @AlexanderKosubek: It is possible to be strongly opposed to an activity, and not practice it personally, but not have any objection to someone else practicing it.
    – jxh
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 8:54
  • 1
    @jxh M'kay, but is "to disapprove" the best word to describe this state of mind? I always presumed that disapproval must have some kind of external effect. Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 9:24
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    @AlexanderKosubek: You have to assume people are capable of compartmentalization. Religious convictions may dictate disapproval of activities that you have no interest in enforcing upon others.
    – jxh
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 9:27
  • 2
    I think the word is killjoy. "Don't invite uncle Peter. He's such a killjoy." Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 11:49

13 Answers 13


Abstainer, teetotaler, Puritan?

An abstainer is literally one who abstains, typically from some passion or pleasure.

The word teetotaler (nothing to do with "tea") comes from the Temperance Movement of the late 1800s, when people claimed to "t-t-totally abstain" from alcohol. Nowadays, we would say "totally with a capital T", but back then, you would feign a stutter.

The Puritans were a movement of English Protestants who objected to the way the Anglican Church was recreating the hierarchical Roman Church and sought a more personal relationship with God.

Their humane beliefs and passion for education (Harvard was founded as a school for Puritan ministers) have been forgotten, and their preference for plain clothing and their distaste for the theater and public holidays have been unfairly inflated in the public imagination to include a prudish rejection of pleasures like drinking and sex that actual Puritans embraced wholeheartedly.

The historian T.B. Macaulay, who should have known better, wrote, "Puritans disliked bear-baiting not because it gave pain to the bear but because it proffered pleasure to the onlookers." To call someone a "Puritan" today implies a dour joylessness, someone who doesn't drink not because he has to drive but because he might accidentally enjoy himself.

To me, incidentally, the word "puritanical" describes a thought, word, or deed that might be ascribed (even wrongly as we have seen) to a Puritan. An actual human being should be tagged as "Puritan" or "a Puritan".

  • 5
    "Teetotaler" is what came into my head.
    – Mike
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 0:13
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    Puritan is ahistorical when it comes to drink; they were [prodigious small beer-drinkers and rum producers] (hence the hefty molasses imports to New England during the Triangular Trade era), and early restrictions on alcohol were intended to address alcoholism and related social ills in Massachusetts— very different from the postbellum temperance movement and Prohibitionism, in which the principal religious characters were Methodist and Baptist, not Congregationalist.
    – choster
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 2:59
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    @Malvolio. Never noticed that. UK/US thing? See oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/…
    – Keith
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 4:22
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    Teetotaler certainly doesn't imply that they disapprove of others drinking, or that they would be uncomfortable in the presence of those who do. Plus, the OP said, I'm not looking for phrases that show disapproval of only one of these habits. Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 16:43
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    @starsplusplus However, this answer does give Puritan, and someone with a puritanical outlook probably does fit the bill (choster's comment notwithstanding).
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 17:09

If you wanted a slightly humorous answer you could make use of "buzzkill"

Noun: (slang) someone or something that stops people from enjoying themselves

However a suitable adjective might be "straitlaced"

  1. excessively strict in conduct or morality; puritanical; prudish:
  • 5
    Similar to "buzzkill", "killjoy" could be used.
    – SBoss
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 14:42
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    -1 Buzzkill would not be a word you would use in consideration of the feelings of the person in question as was asked in the text of the question, as it expresses a strong disapproval of his disapproval (a sentiment that was not a part of the requested word). Straitlaced however is a fine word yeah... so irritating that here on english.SE one answer-post is allowed to have multiple answers. Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 15:28
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    Struggling to understand your downvote @DavidMulder, whether or not one would use the word in a specific (and not described) extended context does not mean the word is not a relevant and suitable answer. The OP simply does not specify the usage context or the range of sensibilities to be observed so positing one that then leads to a downvote seems a little unfair. Depending on the actual social situation there could be many possible answers I see no problem in an answerer providing several of them, especially if the usage is caveated as I did.
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 19:12
  • @MarvMills: "Let's not invite your uncle Peter. He is (a) ......, you know, and he would feel very uncomfortable among our friends." was the example context given. How that's not a specification of the usage context is entirely beyond me. Additionally the caveat is that it would be 'humorous' instead of it having an incredible negative connotation which would be a far more appropriate caveat imho. I sincerely do not see how insulting someones opinions can be considered humorous. Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 19:18
  • you are over-thinking it. It is a slang word that may or may not be acceptable in the discussion between these two unknown people. They may be chaste husband and wife or they may be two 19 year old frat jocks in a drunken drinking session. Best not to assume a situation.
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 22:16

I'm not sure if this is in dictionaries (so it might be considered slangy) but it is a term most American-English speakers will be familiar with and means exactly what you're asking for:

straightedge (adj)


The Australian English term for someone like this is: wowser.

In Australian English this is a very insulting term and should be used carefully.

Addition: here's the pronunciation. The BrE version is pretty close to Australian English.


The word that immediately came to my mind is prude.

  • 3
    Same with me. But as the MW source you cite states, that first thought was not spot-on. Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 7:53

He might be called a square but this word is not specifically about substance use but rather refers to someone with a normative or conservative way of thinking. In the 40s, someone who didn't appreciate jazz was called a square. In the 60s, there were the hippies, and most everyone else was a bunch of squares. I don't think it is commonly used anymore but my friends find it humorous.


In American slang, they can be called goody two-shoes. They seem uncommonly good and they won't do anything that can be regarded as wrong, immoral or "sinful". This covers both abstaining from and disapproving drinking, smoking, gambling and more.

Goody two, goody two, goody goody two shoes

Don't drink, don't smoke, what do you do?

Warning: It is a belittling term.

a person who always behaves well, and perhaps has a disapproving attitude to people who do not


  • 1
    Goody two, goody two, why down-vote you?
    – ermanen
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 6:26

Stuffed shirt, wet blanket, killjoy, grinch, spoilsport, Mrs Grundy and party pooper all convey much of what you are after. So does the adjective prim.

Of these, the descriptors stuffed shirt and Mrs Grundy probably convey the lowest degree of intent to spoil the pleasure of others; the terms principally imply a person of conservative, conventional views as regards social behaviour.

Similarly, prim means 'exaggeratedly proper', but not necessarily with the implication of possessing the desire to prevent other people having fun.


"Royal pain in the assets" is how I'd likely describe him. But "prig" (definition 3) seems to fit the requirements pretty well, and is probably understood by most in the US, at least.


I would use one of the two below. Which is more appropriate depends on how Uncle Peter actually expresses his discomfort:

Let's not invite your uncle Peter. He is austere...
Let's not invite your uncle Peter. He is sententious...

Only going by the context provided, I would describe Uncle Peter as austere. Its primary meaning is "stern and cold in appearance or manner", but also means "morally strict, ascetic" (source: Merriam-Webster).

The word ascetic is like austere, but with the connotations reversed.

1 : practicing strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline
2 : austere in appearance, manner, or attitude
(Source: Merriam-Webster)

However, it is a more obscure word than austere.

The disapproval of indulgent activity is inherently a personal choice, as the individual believes choosing to do is better morally or spiritually. The word austere would give the indication that the individual subjects that disapproval upon others as well. If the individual actively vocalizes the harms of over-indulgence rather than just cold or disapproving looks, then you could use the word sententious:

: having or expessing strong opinions about what people should and should not do
(Source: Merriam-Webster)

You could use the more commonly understood word preachy, but I feel it has religious connotations which may or may not be appropriate.


Temperance advocate is a somewhat old-fashioned term, used often about 75 to 100 years ago. Teetotaler is current and applies specifically to alcohol, whereas temperance is applicable to all abstainers.


A word that you might typically use to describe that sort of person while not strictly meaning that exactly is conservative.

"He was always quite wild even though his parents were pretty conservative"


I think "Straight Arrow" should cover it.

  • I don't think so. "straight arrow" means truthful, AFAIK; doesn't say anything about their capacity for fun.
    – smci
    Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 8:38
  • From UrbanDictionary.com : Straight Arrow "A person who doesn't use alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, or other drugs. Can also be used to refer to somebody who doesn't party, cuss, stay out late, or engage in other risky activities." Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 10:08
  • Hmm, that one only has 46 upvotes, not exactly established slang though.
    – smci
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 11:23

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