My friend tends to lie. He is good at physics or is the best physicist at my community college in my opinion. However, he likes to lie a lot. When I ask him for help, he always says something along the lines of "I'm stupid and not that smart" or you should ask _____ for help, he is smarter than me. He calls himself stupid, when he was a valedictorian, which is ironic. While the second might be true because subjectively to me he is the smartest in physics, but to the teacher or other students my friend might not be the smartest, the first statement is a flat out lie. What would I describe this type of behavior where they purposely say they suck even though they do not, and I also believe he deep down believes that he is smart/hard-working. I would not call him humble, because of what I said above where I truly think that he believes he is smart. However I do not think liar or jokester is the right term either. When looking up liar, I found a word that started with a word that started with an m that meant he was a great exaggerator. However, I believe he is the opposite, where he greatly downplays the significance of something, in this case his ability to solve physics problems. What word would I use to describe this behavior. To me it seems like a false humbleness.

P.S. In case you were wondering, he does help me with my homework but not without some "joking" about how bad he is at physics. Also, I said he was a valedictorian because this/last semester he got his first B.

  • Was your friend's 'B' grade lower or higher than usual? Aug 14, 2015 at 10:30
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    Please don't say he lies. He may be embarrassed at being so smart. He may be tired of being told he is a brain. He may want to feel more like a regular guy than a brain. Or he may come from a culture where it is bad form to stick out. It would be worse if he were constantly bragging.
    – ab2
    Aug 15, 2015 at 21:22
  • @ab2 all of the explanations you give would still involve him lying. what you are really asking is for OP to soften their description of his lying by using a more flattering word, or one with more context provided closer to the word itself.
    – Ejaz
    Nov 20, 2020 at 6:59

5 Answers 5


From what you have described I would say he is modest

From the Oxford Dictionary: Modest Unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one’s abilities or achievements

Or that he is "fishing for compliments" Fishing - Try subtly or deviously to elicit a response from someone

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    I think my friend is feigning modesty. Aug 14, 2015 at 19:56

I would say he's acting 'coy'. While this word isn't directly tied into the lying element you insinuate, if he's downplaying his abilities to gauge a reaction from others deliberately, this is the word I'd use. Coy people downplay something to appear alluring or to attract attention from others.

This might not strictly meet the definition of what you're looking for, but it's close enough.

  • This is good. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/coy: "Pretending shyness or modesty, especially in an insincere or flirtatious way." (I think it might work better in US English than British.) Aug 15, 2015 at 19:52
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    As a Brit, I would have a hard time using "coy" in this context. It has too much of a flirtatious nuance. Jul 17, 2016 at 14:52

If you were satisfied with describing the effect of being a ________-er , you could (humorously) respond that he is "derelict in his friendship duties" or a "shirker" or "malingerer" or (and this is British dialect) a "fainaiguer".

Or, to get more to the point, I think the guy is a self-deprecator, but people don't usually use that noun. It sounds more natural to say, "OK, dude, stop with the self-deprecation and help a brother out."

  • Good answers but please edit to include definitions. Thanks :)
    – Yeshe
    Aug 14, 2015 at 5:38
  • In the end he still helps me. Thanks for the response but I think the best phrase that fits him is that he likes to feign modesty. Aug 14, 2015 at 19:57

I would say that your friend is being disingenuous, because this accurately sums up his motives as you describe them -- primarily to avoid unnecessary work.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of disingenuous is:


Pronunciation: /ˌdɪsɪnˈdʒɛnjʊəs/


Not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does: 'this journalist was being somewhat disingenuous as well as cynical'

  • This is interesting and although the definition initially seems to fit well, I wonder for the following reason: people who are disingenuous are typically pretending to know less than they really do, whereas OP's subject is claiming to know less than he really does Jul 17, 2016 at 14:48

False modesty


  • So-and-So's false modesty gets annoying pretty quickly.

  • Don't pay any attention to that nonsense -- it's just his false modesty (OR he's just being falsely modest).

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