Is there a word in English that describes the behavior of someone who realizes they are being monitored by some authority or supervisor, and as such, are acting on "their best behavior"? For instance, a school yard bully might act like a sweet, innocent child and treat other children with kindness if she knows that the teacher is watching.

I'm looking for a word that describes this type of phony "goody-two-shoes" type behavior. Sanctimonious and pious are close, but both imply that the portrayer considers herself to be morally superior, which doesn't fit this scenario. Insincere is spot on (its fake/feigned behavior), but is too generalized and doesn't apply specifically to the above scenario where an actor is pretending to be a goody-two-shoes because they fear repercussion from some authority.

Another example: I might pretend to be working diligently if I know my boss is watching me closely, but the minute he goes on vacation I slack off and stop working.

Any ideas?

  • Thanks @Josh61, I think we're definitely getting closer. However, respectfully of course, I'd argue KU/KD is still not exactly what I'm looking for. My reason for that is similar to that for sycophant: again, the bully is not praising or kissing up to the teacher in any way, they are just trying to evade punishment by acting the way they know they're supposed to be behaving. I am not praising my boss or kissing up to him in any way, I am just working hard temporarily so that he stops watching me so that I can go back to surfing Facebook. – smeeb Apr 23 '15 at 18:55
  • Man I really hate critiquing people who are trying to help me for free :-) Thanks again (enormously!) Josh61, but consider this: A cop pulls you over for speeding and is an abusive jerk to you until he realizes you are filming him with your smart phone. At that point, his tone and voice inflection immediately changes, he starts treating you politely and simply lets you off with a warning. In that case, would you call him a sycophant? Would you call him a KU/KD person? Would you call him an opportunist? I'd say no; they're close but still not quite a perfect fit. – smeeb Apr 23 '15 at 19:02
  • Thanks again @Josh61, but now you're really starting to make me feel badly, like I owe you a beer. Yes, that cop is definitely sly, however, that falls into the same category as "insincere" as I pointed out above. The cop is only altering his behavior because he realizes he could get in trouble if he continues to bully me. I can be sly or insincere outside the context of this scenario (fearing punishment). See the subtle difference? I'm so sorry! – smeeb Apr 23 '15 at 19:25
       word that describes ... type of phony "goody-two-shoes" type behavior

Merriam-Webster defines the adjective UNCTUOUS as used to describe someone who speaks and behaves in a way that is meant to seem friendly and polite but that is unpleasant because it is obviously not sincere unctuous. The poster child of an unctuous personality in “classic” American television (for those of us old enough to remember) was a character named Eddie Haskell (played to great effect by the actor, Ken Osmond) on “Leave It To Beaver” which ran on CBS from October 4, 1957, to 1958 and then on ABC from 1958 to 1963. The Beav’s dad, Ward Cleaver, once described Eddie as “so polite, it's almost un-American." The “mask" of an “unctuous" persona is worn to both avoid what is undesirable and to access what is desirable.

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    It's not the case, because the motivation is different, a forced role player pretends to show compliance, he or she does not want to please anyone, just to comply, to imitate a normal person rather than please anyone. – alx Apr 23 '15 at 19:45
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    Thanks @Little Eva! But javaNoobs is correct: Eddie Haskell (great example btw!) is being overly polite to gain favor with The Beav's parents. What I'm looking for is very similar, but different because of motivation. Pretend Eddie Haskell couldn't care less about what The Beav's parents thought of him, but knew he'd get in trouble if they caught him behaving badly. So when he's around them, he's not unctuous or flattering, he just acts like a regular kid so they don't notice anything. – smeeb Apr 23 '15 at 20:18
  • The key difference here is that if Eddie acted the way I'm looking for, The Beav's dad would just say: "Eddie's polite", not (sarcastically) "Eddie's so polite, it's almost un-American". In other words, Eddie evades punishment through deceitful action. – smeeb Apr 23 '15 at 20:18
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    Eddie Haskell managed to be both unctuous (oily) and saccharine ("overly or sickishly sweet" & "ingratiatingly or affectedly agreeable or friendly," per Merriam-Webster). The word saccharine used to have an even more unpleasant connotation, because it was a homophone of saccharin, an artificial sweetener that had a characteristically bitter aftertaste. – Sven Yargs Apr 23 '15 at 20:46
  • @Sven Yargs - what's so amusing about Eddie (but not so amusing of real-life Eddie's) is that he's wholly unaware of how "over the top" his act is. Eddie's a classic narcissist, and perhaps a sociopath to boot. – user98990 Apr 23 '15 at 20:55

How about sycophant

a person who acts obsequiously toward someone important in order to gain advantage.

  • Thanks @Armen, that's definitely close. Still, sycophants are typically synonymous with "yes men"; that is, individuals who (like the definition above states) actively praise an authority solely for the purpose of personal benefit. In my case, the bully is simply acting on their best behavior because they fear punishment from the authority. In other words, the bully is not actively praising the teacher, the bully is simply acting differently so as to not invoke the teacher's wraith. I am not praising my boss, I am simply working hard temporarily so as to not get in trouble. – smeeb Apr 23 '15 at 18:37

How about conformist ?

a person who conforms to accepted behaviour or established practices.

  • Conformism is lack of initiative rather than malicious actions. – alx Apr 23 '15 at 19:25

I like "brown-noser". Its slang but hits the nail right on the head...

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    Brown-noser is a flatterer, and the person described in the question does not need to flatter, he just imitates normal behavior, without flattery. – alx Apr 23 '15 at 19:51
  • Exactly, javaNoobs, but thanks @bearvarine! – smeeb Apr 23 '15 at 20:08
  • I think brown-nose is probably the best answer offered. No, a brown-noser isn't necessarily a flatterer, nor does the OP focus on "normal behavior;" on the contrary, they specified "best behavior." A brown-noser is one who more or less does favors for someone in authority. They may or may not flatter their superior in the process. – David Blomstrom Jan 3 '16 at 2:56

Reactivity can describe this behaviour in psychology.

Reactivity is a phenomenon that occurs when individuals alter their performance or behavior due to the awareness that they are being observed.

Reactivity is not limited to changes in behaviour in relation to being merely observed; it can also refer to situations where individuals alter their behavior to conform to the expectations of the observer.



The person you describe is actually a psychopath or sociopath. It's part of their manipulation armoury. They bamboozle the gullible and even the astute. They are clever at it because they have no shame or guilt.


If you're looking for an adjective, one possibility is obedient.

The type of behavior you describe sounds like something from Orwell's famous novel 1984, and the characters in that novel were very fearful and obedient.

Another borderline possibility (albeit a noun) is sheeple. In political circles, the word sheeple commonly describes people who are apathetic, clueless and obedient. In fact, some may be so clueless that they don't even realize they're being monitored, which would rule out this term. But in the broadest sense of the term, I think sheeple can also describe people who have been beaten into submission, including people who know they are being monitored.

You suggested yet another possibility - slacker. A slacker is a person who doesn't carry his or her weight. But such a person may work harder if they know they're being monitored.

I think the best answer offered so far (by bearvarine) may be brown-noser, though I'm not sure if it's an exact match for your request.


Such a person is a toady.

toady /ˈtəʊdi/
n a person who behaves obsequiously to someone important.

This term is primarily about putting up with mistreatment rather than seeking favour.

It's also a verb, you can describe somebody as toadying: the man is a toadying little parasite


The word I was looking for is snaperly:

  • When a bully goes from beating up kids when no one is looking, to acting like a nice friendly child when the teacher is looking, she is acting snaperly
  • When I am cruising on Facebook at work, and I quickly do a Alt+Tab to switch back to my work screen because I notice my boss just stepped out of his office, I am acting snaperly
  • When a cop pulls you over and is gruff and terse with you, and borderline abusive to you, and then immediately changes her behavior to being polite and friendly as soon as she realizes she is being video taped, she is acting snaperly

It is a single word that implies there's nothing to see here, carry on!

Snaperly! Who's coming with me!

  • Snaperly is a made-up word though. How did you come up with that? – 0.. Apr 24 '15 at 15:42
  • Harry Potter, Professor Snape. He is snaperly! – smeeb Apr 24 '15 at 16:29
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    I saw your update that you want to add the word to English language. Here is an option from MacMillan dictionary that you can add words in their Open Dictionary. But they want words that are actually used so it is better if you find a context that it was used. And for your question, it is better to choose an actual word as the right answer for future reference. (Another possibility is that there might be an actual word that is not posted as an answer yet). – 0.. Apr 25 '15 at 4:04
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    If your intent was making up a word and choosing your own answer, why ask this question then? You can put a bounty to attract more answers. For example, I gave you a word that describes this in psychology also. – 0.. Apr 26 '15 at 17:44
  • I'm a HUGE fan of coining new terms when no better terms exist. However, your creation, snaperly, just doesn't work for me. Moreover, I'm not convinced the word you requested doesn't already exist. Then again, I haven't yet figured out what word does work, so you might have a case for coining a new term. If so, I'm very interested, as political terminology is one of my specialities, and the word you're describing is very political. – David Blomstrom Jan 3 '16 at 2:43

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