I'd like to warn somebody of one of their harmful managers, or even a so-called fake friend, so I say it like this:

Don't trust him! He is nothing but a cunning person who is trying to harm you/put you down, with his special ability , so gradually, *smoothly,softly, wisely, and, secretly* via a pre-planned plot that you won't even notice or suspect his intentions.

What idiom, phrase, term, ... could be used for describing this wise person/ fake friend/whatever you name it, -or his ability-*while focusing on using his wisdom for doing his hidden harmful actions smoothly!

P.S 1: I have found "back-stabber"; "two-faced"; "a snake in the grass"; "a wolf in sheep's clothing"; but none of them cover all those attributes as a whole.

-(there is an idiom in my country which says" Don't trust him! He cuts off the throats/ heads with cotton!) -( these people are potentially good politicians!, so you can use this idiom even for countries or politicians who achieve their goals by acting in this way!)

Note: my question has been marked as "duplicate", but the answer I'm looking for, has nothing to do with answer which user87131 is looking for, he/she is focusing on a liar fake friend, and me, on some other attributes and actually maybe this person is not necessarily a friend, maybe he is someone whom I am obliged to deal with,!!. Please reopen my question, if possible! -(Sorry, Everybody! I had to edit my question!)

P.S2: I just found these political terms: "Soft War", "soft power"! And both can totally convey the meaning I am looking for, so Can I use them In non-political cases, too? , Like: , "Don't trust him, he is good at soft war!/ he is good at applying soft power"?

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    Maybe Littlefinger? – bib Jul 9 '15 at 14:59
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    No. It's a joke. A character, Petyr Baelish, in Game of Thrones has the attributes you describe. His nickname is Littlefinger. – bib Jul 9 '15 at 15:03
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    What's wrong with the idioms you listed especially; wolf in sheep's clothing and two-faced are both very apt. – Mari-Lou A Jul 9 '15 at 15:03
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    Cunning and sly is probably what you're looking for then. – Mari-Lou A Jul 9 '15 at 15:43
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    I think this is a modern portmanteau, but the term "frenemy" is common in my social circles when referring to that sort of person. The ngram viewer shows it taking off around 2000. – Gus Jul 9 '15 at 17:20

20 Answers 20


"Silver-tongued devil" accurately describes many politicians, whose "fluent and persuasive speech" has gotten them where they are (the Free Dictionary), but to fit your scenario, I'd use it with one (all?) of your suggestions to fully capture the "backstabbing" notion : "a two-faced, backstabbing, snake-in-the-grass, silver-tongued devil."

For a single word, there’s an "opportunist,” who is someone that “seizes every opportunity to improve things for him/[her]self”), including “act[ing] as if they are close friends.” (Vocabulary [dot] Com).

To the extent that not all “opportunists” are wise enough to successfully execute their schemes, you could add a modifier such as conniving [opportunist]” or calculating [opportunist]”, to help your friend see what you see in his/her manager.

  • Oh! , very good combination ! +1 thanks, @Papa Poule! – Soudabeh Jul 9 '15 at 17:19
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    +1 for "conniving opportunist". Conniving portrays the skill and scheming, and opportunist captures the motivation or intent. – DeveloperWeeks Jul 10 '15 at 18:10

A simple adjective is


Showing a skillful use of underhanded tactics to achieve goals

but I prefer


using clever lies and tricks in order to get or achieve something

clever and dishonest suggesting the principles of conduct laid down by Machiavelli; specifically : marked by cunning, duplicity, or bad faith

  • Good!+1, both of them seem appropriate! :) thanks, @hatchet! – Soudabeh Jul 9 '15 at 17:36

Not exactly a "real" word, although some dictionaries now list it, but how about "Frenemy"?

one who pretends to be a friend but is actually an enemy

  • Maybe we can say: he is a wise sly /sly wise frenemy! @Michael Broughton! – Soudabeh Jul 10 '15 at 3:25

Judas, though that may only be relatable to people familiar enough with the biblical story of Judas Iscariot:

The term Judas has entered many languages as a synonym for betrayer, and Judas has become the archetype of the traitor in Western art and literature. Judas is given some role in virtually all literature telling the Passion story, and appears in a number of modern novels and movies. (Wikipedia)

The story of The Scorpion and the Frog also comes to mind, though the scorpion in that case is betraying because it's in his nature; looking at that page lead me to this quote that perhaps gives a better word than snake, "viper":

It is this moral that is also illustrated by Aesop's fable of The Farmer and the Viper, where a farmer saves a snake which then bites its benefactor as soon as it has recovered. The farmer's last words are, "I am rightly served for pitying a scoundrel" and the moral is "The greatest kindness will not bind the ungrateful." (Wikipedia)

The character Achilles De Flandres in the Ender's Shadow series is much like what you describe. Quoting from the link:

Achilles de Flandres is the main villain of the Bean quartet. Like Bean, he grew up in Rotterdam, an orphan on the streets; like Peter, he displays sociopathic tendencies, particularly by murdering anyone who has ever seen or made him helpless. (Wikipedia)

Emphasis mine. His character is portrayed as being unusually skilled at eliciting love, respect, and trust from others; he then betrays them if it is convenient, without any remorse. I mention this reference more to point out his sociopathic tendencies.

The character Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings also bears some similarities. The character is exceptionally good at gaining positions of trust/authority. The name alone carries with it some connotations even if the recipient isn't familiar with Lord of the Rings.

Worm (and derivatives thereof), when used to describe people, may be used in a number of ways including:

3 [count] informal + disapproving : a person who is not liked or respected : a very bad person

  • I didn't think that she would go on a date with that worm. [=wretch]

worm into [phrasal verb]

worm (your way or yourself) into (something) informal

to get (yourself) into (a desired position, situation, etc.) in a gradual and usually clever or dishonest way

  • I wormed my way into a job at the theater.
  • He somehow managed to worm himself back into her life.


The urban dictionary definition for wormtongue says:

A “ Worm Tongue” is a cunning, lying “sack of shit” Troll who for some reason is able to incredibly manipulate people to evil ends with their voices. The trance that worm tongues put their victims into is similar to a snake that hypnotizes its prey, before it eats them.

Most televangelists, used-car salesmen, politicians, hookers, drug dealers and lawyers have worm tongues and have to the power to seduce people with their voices.

The origin of the worm tongue is most-likely the character created by J.R.R. Tolkien in “The Lord of The Rings” trilogy.

Len is sure one mother-fucking worm tongue. I have never seen one person create so much stink between people in such a long time. (urbandictionary.com)

  • +1 ,I had found it in my searches, It can be an option,too! Thanks! @Brian Vanderberg! – Soudabeh Jul 9 '15 at 16:38
  • Apt response - but that link may become obsolete or suffer link-rot. You will enhance your answer (and your reputation) by adding some pertinent material from that link and source citations. – user98990 Jul 9 '15 at 16:42
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    Added quote and more suggestions. – Brian Vandenberg Jul 9 '15 at 17:08
  • Wow! Great answer! I wish I could up vote you again! Thanks, @BrianVandenberg! :) – Soudabeh Jul 9 '15 at 17:18
  • Your edit has significantly enhanced the value of this answer. Additionally, block-quotes are reserved for direct quotations, which require a attribution, please add so I can up-vote. – user98990 Jul 9 '15 at 22:55

If we are considering literary references, perhaps Do not trust him! He is a Iago!

Iago is a Machiavellian schemer and manipulator, as he is often referred to as "honest Iago", displaying his skill at deceiving other characters so that not only do they not suspect him, but they count on him as the person most likely to be truthful.


  • Very close!+1, thanks a lot! @bib, do you use it at all in your common conversations? – Soudabeh Jul 9 '15 at 15:30
  • In my common conversations, I try to avoid situations in which I socialize with such snakes. Can't say I have heard it used such. – bib Jul 9 '15 at 15:37
  • Oh!, I see. @bib! – Soudabeh Jul 9 '15 at 15:40
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    +1. @Soudabeh, if you're ever in India, the term would be Langda Tyagi. – Tushar Raj Jul 9 '15 at 15:57
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    @Soudabeh: Iago. It's the name of the Iago character in his adaptation of Othello, Omkara ,directed by Vishal Bharadwaj; who's the absolute best, bar none, in world cinema when it comes to adapting Shakespeare. – Tushar Raj Jul 9 '15 at 17:35

The “friend” is untrue, the behavior is duplicitous, and the effects are insidious.

1.) untrue adjective: 2. not faithful or loyal.

synonyms: unfaithful, disloyal, faithless, false, treacherous, traitorous, deceitful, deceiving, duplicitous, double-dealing, insincere, unreliable, undependable, inconstant. (Google)

2.) duplicitous adjective: deceitful. "treacherous, duplicitous behavior"; (Google)

3.) insidious adjective: proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects. "sexually transmitted diseases can be insidious and sometimes without symptoms"

synonyms: stealthy, subtle, surreptitious, cunning, crafty, treacherous, artful, sly, wily, shifty, underhanded, indirect; informal sneaky

Origin: mid 16th century: from Latin insidiosus ‘cunning,’ from insidiae ‘an ambush or trick,’ from insidere ‘lie in wait for,’ from in- ‘on’ + sedere ‘sit.’ (Google)

Proverb (or, a word to the wise): All are not friends that speak us fair.

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    Wow! Many useful adjectives! +1, especially "insidious", thanks a lot @Little Eva! :) – Soudabeh Jul 9 '15 at 16:40


unfairly or cynically using another person or group for profit or advantage

As you define the person in question as a manager, I would assume they are exploiting others to slowly climb the managerial ladder.


Someone who is as sly as a fox is cunning and experienced, and can get what they want, often in an underhand way.

The term “sly as a fox” is often used in reference to politicians. The fox is a very devious animal that sneaks up on its prey without the victim being aware of impending doom.
Sow's Ear to Silk Purse By J.E.B. Graham

sly: 1. Artfully cunning; secretly mischievous; wily.

The recently invented term soft war is somewhat related to the term Cold War the non-violent but hostile conflict between the USA (the West) and the ex Soviet Union between 1945 and 1989, it also gave birth to the expression hot war.

A soft war is the perceived threat to undermine and attack the values, beliefs and identity of culturally diverse societies by transmitting and globally imposing Western values via the mass media.

In 2009, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps outlined what they described as a "soft war" being waged against Iran by the West. The government believed and believes that enemies of the state are using cultural influencers like movies, television and video games to try and rot out the culture and identity of that country from the inside.

The ‘soft war’ between Hollywood and America's enemies…

At present, I doubt a person unfamiliar with the expression would fully understand the OP's usage “to be good at soft war”. Although if the context were clear: a so-called friend is not to be trusted; then describing the individual as being the sly fox in a soft war could be an effective metaphor.

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    Foxes are not always underhanded. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 9 '15 at 16:20
  • How about saying:" he is a wise (devil )sly"? @Mar-Lou A! – Soudabeh Jul 9 '15 at 16:22
  • Said the fox, @Kit Z. Fox – user98990 Jul 9 '15 at 19:30
  • I like it @Mari Luo A!, "sly fox in a soft war", thanks! :) – Soudabeh Jul 10 '15 at 13:22

Predator. Manipulator. But you are right--it is hard to find one single word to fully capture all of the nuances of malicious intent.

  • Yes, and this has made it difficult to find suitable idiom, term,... for me, thanks, +1 @MRS30! – Soudabeh Jul 9 '15 at 15:10

adj., artful.

To be artful is to do something skillfully, especially in a cunning way.

Marked by skill in achieving a desired end especially with cunning or craft.


  • This has a close meaning,too! Thanks!+1 ,@Mysti! , how about saying:' he is an artful sly"? – Soudabeh Jul 9 '15 at 16:35
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    "artful" is such a subtle adjective it's almost a euphemism. – user98990 Jul 9 '15 at 22:59

char·la·tan \ˈshär-lə-tən\ noun –MW

a person who falsely pretends to know or be something in order to deceive people

Don't trust him! He's nothing but a charlatan who talks out of both sides of his mouth. Do not mistake his charisma for friendliness.

  • +1, yes, we use it in our country, too!, interesting!:), thanks,@Mazura – Soudabeh Jul 11 '15 at 4:30
  • Best answer. Most understood, one word answer. – user39425 Jul 12 '15 at 8:42

Not really idioms, I suggest "a disguised foe" or a "concealed enemy" for a "fake friend".

  • foe (noun) "a person who feels enmity, hatred, or malice toward another"

  • disguised - "to conceal or obscure by dissemblance or false show; misrepresent" ---TFD---- "to conceal or cover up the truth or actual character of by a counterfeit form or appearance" D.com

  • conceal - (vb) - "to keep from discovery; hide." TFD

  • "I don't trust him. Instead of a real friend, I'm sure he's a disguised foe."
  • "Kind words can be the disguise of mean intentions."
  • "He concealed his identity by using a false name."
  • Yes!, why not! I welcome anything that can describe this fake friend!:) , good, +1, thanks, @Centaurus! – Soudabeh Jul 9 '15 at 16:42

A sycophant is someone that sucks up to you, particularly with flattery, in order to gain an advantage that may well be harmful to you:

From Dictionary.com:

noun 1. a self-seeking, servile flatterer; fawning parasite.


I like the word "Manipulator". They get you to do things for them making it seem like YOU made the choice while they gently guided you towards the outcome they were looking for. In some cases that removes them from being a target because YOU made the choices not them.


He's a con artist. That's someone who gains your confidence through exquisite artistry, with the express intent of defrauding you.


Another possibility is a Svengali.

From Wikipedia:

Svengali is a fictional character in George du Maurier's 1895 novel Trilby. Scholars call Svengali a classic example of anti-Semitism in literature because he is Jewish, of Eastern European origins, and he seduces, dominates and exploits Trilby, a young English girl, and makes her into a famous singer.1 The word "svengali" has come to refer to a person who, with evil intent, dominates, manipulates and controls a creative person such as a singer or actor. In court, a "Svengali defense"[2] is a legal tactic that purports the defendant to be a pawn in the scheme of a greater, and more influential, criminal mastermind.

  • !, If you want to use it in a sentence, how would you use it?, for example; would you say" he is like Svengali"? – Soudabeh Jul 11 '15 at 15:39
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    You can see here - click EXAMPLE SENTENCES. – Mynamite Jul 11 '15 at 22:41

He's a deceiver, a pretender, and a user.


You could also say the person wears a "Crocodile Smile". I think that is a southern saying. I'm not southern, but it is one of my favorites to use. It expresses the extreme danger in trusting the person, and pays no compliments.

The saying means the person is putting on a friendly appearance and may seem approachable, but really the smile is fake and insincere, thinly masking the deadly predator waiting to strike.

It has similar meaning to "Crocodile tears", but with a fake smile instead of false tears.

  • Close meaning! You know what?, we Iranians, even say like this" Don't be fooled by his smiles!, he cuts off the heads with cotton"!, very interesting! Thanks, and + 1, @Maya! :) – Soudabeh Jul 11 '15 at 18:50

The word "sociopath" is sometimes used in this way:

Sociopaths are the charmers and manipulators. They are the people who appear together and well-groomed at first glance, but hide many secrets and lies underneath their mask of sanity.

How do we recognize the remorseless? One of their chief characteristics is a kind of glow or charisma that makes sociopaths more charming or interesting than the other people around them. They’re more spontaneous, more intense, more complex, or even sexier than everyone else, making them tricky to identify and leaving us easily seduced.

See also The Urban Dictionary: Socipath, Google Search, etc.

Compare to more formal definitions: Wikipedia, Differences Between a Psychopath vs Sociopath.


I can't believe that in all the excellent answers so far, no one has suggested "grooming".

  • Can you explain its meaning a little?( I found these meanings: to brush and clean, to prepare), what does it mean here?, @Paul Smith – Soudabeh Jul 12 '15 at 14:19
  • It is used to describe predators who use guile and charm to convince their victims over time time that what they are doing is not actually wrong. The end result being that the victims want to do what the predator wishes. – Paul Smith Jul 12 '15 at 15:04
  • I got it now, good,+1, and is it used commonly? @Paul Smith!, and can you give me an example sentence, using "grooming"? :) – Soudabeh Jul 12 '15 at 15:23
  • It is normally used in the context of online child exploitation (usually for sexual purposes) but goes back to the character "Fagin" in Oliver Twist convincing Oliver that you 'have to pick a pocket or two'. – Paul Smith Jul 13 '15 at 10:35

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