It's not being a sycophant, because he doesn't want any favors from you. It's just all small talk. I would like to know the best word to describe this behavior or this person?

  • 2
    'Bubbly' - but perhaps if you want to dial in a little bit more pejoratively you could use 'smarmy'
    – maxwell
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 22:03
  • 2
    I wouldn't know of a word for this specific occasion. Which is quite surprising actually. Since it's quite a common thing I reckon.
    – laurisvr
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 14:55
  • This may be a symptom of a disorder, see Wikipedia: Superficial charm the section on criticism is relevant though: "Critics object that there are few objective criteria whereby to distinguish superficial from genuine charm; and that as part of the conventional niceties of politeness, we all regularly employ superficial charm in everyday life: conveying superficial solidarity and fictitious benevolence to all social interaction."
    – amdn
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 15:36
  • How about "outgoing"? Commented May 20, 2015 at 22:28
  • People are suggesting smarmy, but from your description I didn't get the impression you meant that the friendliness is unpleasant or wanting something. Worth clarifying?
    – Rob Grant
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 12:40

17 Answers 17


I hear the word superficial often used in this context. Someone might be superficial, or only engage in superficial conversation.

  • 2
    Isn't superficial just about the shallow part, without specifying the nice part?
    – Jasper
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 14:13
  • @Jasper I don't see anything in the question which says that the person is nice. It says that their apparent friendliness is only shallow. Commented May 21, 2015 at 14:26
  • @starsplusplus sorry, nice was the wrong word to use. I should have said: Isn't superficial just about the shallow part, without specifying the friendly part?
    – Jasper
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 14:30
  • @Jasper Hmm, good point. At first I thought (see the second sentence of my comment above) that the "but" in the title was enough to make "superficial" work, because it's not really genuine friendliness per se. However, I've now realised that your point is that there are two concepts needing to be conveyed for the SWR, and "superficial" only covers one of them. Commented May 21, 2015 at 14:34

A person who projects a sincere friendly attitude without a sense of deep commitment is cordial:


1 Warm and friendly:
the atmosphere was cordial and relaxed


The connotations of cordial were historically heart-felt:

late 14c., "of the heart," from Middle French cordial, from Medieval Latin cordialis "of or for the heart," from Latin cor (genitive cordis) "heart," from PIE root *kerd- (1) "heart" (see heart (n.)). Meaning "heartfelt, from the heart" is mid-15c. The noun is late 14c., originally "medicine, food, or drink that stimulates the heart." Related: Cordiality.


Currently cordial seems to connote surface sincerely polite:

If you like someone but you wouldn't say they're your friend, you might describe your relationship as cordial. Use cordial to describe a greeting or relationship that is friendly and sincere.

In Middle English, this adjective meant "of the heart," borrowed from Medieval Latin cordiālis, from Latin cor "heart." This core sense of "heart" can be seen in the synonyms heartfelt and hearty. The noun cordial originally referred to a medicine or drink that stimulates the heart, but its current sense is "a liqueur."



Cordial has the benefit of communicating sincere, without the sense of deep.

  • 3
    It also has a more formal (as in stuffy) connotation, as opposed to "heart-felt." In fact, the synonymous phrases "hearty welcome" and "cordial reception" are the canonical ones to show the effect of French influence over the German-derived core of the English language. Commented May 19, 2015 at 18:13
  • Bravo, @JasonMelançon! Depending on the context, cordial could imply stuffy, but it is not a universal sense of the word.
    – ScotM
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 18:16

Such a person is affable. Neither M-W nor OED explicitly defines this quality as shallow or superficial, but usage tends that way in my experience—similarly with bonhomie and hail-fellow-well-met.


Such a person is smarmy. Merriam-Webster has

behaving in a way that seems polite, kind, or pleasing but is not genuine or believable


I'd call such a person a gladhand.

verb (used with object)

  1. to greet warmly.

  2. to greet in an insincerely effusive manner. verb (used without object)

  3. to greet others with enthusiasm, especially feigned enthusiasm: The candidate spent weeks glad-handing around the state.

According to the dictionary it's a verb, but in the wild I've only seen it used as a noun.


"It's all just small talk"

Sounds to me like this person is simply sociable.

Willing to talk and engage in activities with other people; friendly:

Or gregarious, if you're looking for something fancier.

(Of a person) fond of company; sociable:


  • 5
    Sociable and gregarious people may very well be friendly on a deeper level.
    – Ilanysong
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 17:13
  • @Ilanysong: Not to everyone.
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 17:14
  • 5
    No, not necessarily, but by calling someone sociable, you aren't necessarily implying that the person is friendly on a shallow level. "Sociable" is a much broader term...
    – Ilanysong
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 17:15
  • 1
    @Ilanysong: Fair point. It's broad. But I'm hoping the context would narrow it down.
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 17:28

The phrase "fair weather friend" has this meaning—someone who is only friendly during good times but, when the storms come, is nowhere to be found.

Edit: If you don't want to imply that this person will not be around when you really need them, then a less derogatory phrase like "friendly acquaintance" may be appropriate. (Edit inspired by the comment below by Paarth.)

  • 5
    I don't think this captures the intent of the question. Fair weather friend has a negative connotation associated with someone not willing to stand with you. While someone who only knows you on a shallow level may not be willing to stand with you, fair weather friend connotes some sense of betrayal.
    – Paarth
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 17:25

I would tend to describe the action of such a person as schmoozing.

From Merriam-Webster:

to talk with someone in a friendly way often in order to get some advantage for yourself

I would think of someone who is only being friendly to another in a shallow way (usually for self-centered reasons) as schmoozing.

If you want to completely avoid any negative connotations, I think using the word friendly is just fine by itself (e.g. I would describe a barrista who always asks people about their day as being friendly, even though it's evident the friendliness is only at a shallow level).

Alternatively, you could use an adverb modifier to make this more explicit (e.g. superficially friendly, or insincerely friendly).

  • The question says that they don't want anything from you. Don't think this is right.
    – Rob Grant
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 12:39

I think that "glib" is appropriate here as it implies both the smoothness and affability but also the superficialness and possibly lacking in depth and insincerity.

For a slightly more clinical sounding term I might try "superficially charming" which possibly goes a little far for this purpose, describing someone with a silver tongue yet lacking any deep friendliness or care. It is often used in describing mental disorders causing people to be extremely socially apt in shallow relationships but fail to gain any depth to them.


The word I think of is acquaintance. It implies familiarity but not necessarily friendship.


It isn't a single word, but Hail fell well met seems to fit, capturing both the friendliness and the superficiality.

  • Nice expression, but it seems you made a typo ? It's "Hail fellOW well met" apparently.
    – P. O.
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 12:11

Genteel polite, refined, or respectable, often in an affected or ostentatious way. synonyms: refined, respectable, decorous, mannerly, well mannered, courteous, polite, proper, correct, seemly; More


I'd say that CORDIAL, AMIABLE, and/or SOCIABLE work the best under most circumstances. They are not negative in any way and don't assign malevolent intent like "smarmy", "schmooze" and "insincere" convey. I, personally, am cordial and amiable with problematic relationships in any forced social setting (think: a large Thanksgiving gathering) because it makes things go much more smoothly. If the other party is willing to respond in kind, the interaction goes remarkably well, with no drama or hurtful exchanges. It is not insincere, it is merely expedient and POLITE to do so, imo.


If you're looking for a word to describe someone that you know, but that you don't really have a deep conversation with, an acquaintance would fit that description.

a person one knows slightly, but who is not a close friend.

For an even more informal relation, a 'casual acquaintance' would infer an even greater degree of unattachment.

This doesn't imply any specific type of conversation you might have with the person, or even the conversation you'd have with them, but it does strongly imply a weak connection, and someone you wouldn't have a deep connection to.

The only issue with this word is that it also doesn't imply they are 'very friendly' with you - only that the actual connection that you share is very weak.


Maybe obsequious gets at this, but maybe it implies being nice a little bit more just out of duty


One more related word to add to the mix:

A person can be said to be cloying:

From WordNet (r) 3.0 (2006) [wn]:

      adj 1: overly sweet [syn: {cloying}, {saccharine}, {syrupy},

Although the lack of sincerity is not explicit, cloying can be appropriate word to describe a person's behavior when obsessive niceness becomes more of an irritant than a virtue.


I'd suggest agreeable if the subject is passive or not particularly outgoing, or glad-hander if they feign gregariousness without depth.

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