What is the word or expression for when someone acts as though something is on the up and up, even though they know they are exploiting or abusing a system for their own benefit. For example, imagine there is an "activist" judge who uses a jaded interpretation of the law to rule against a large corporation he doesn't like, and we have the sentence:

Judge Clancy's cynical and self-serving interpretation of the Wildlife Act threatens to put our company out of business.

Here I have used the word "cynical" but that is not exactly right. We have sort of the idea of crocodile tears where someone pretends to be normal, but has a hidden agenda.

I think the right word may be "disengenuous", but am not sure.

  • Sounds like you're talking about hypocrisy.
    – Robusto
    Oct 22, 2015 at 15:33
  • @Robusto No, hypocrisy is when you do something different than what you recommend to others.
    – Emma Dash
    Oct 22, 2015 at 16:47

6 Answers 6


Consider dishonest, deceitful, or unscrupulous.

unscrupulous: Devoid of scruples; oblivious to or contemptuous of what is right or honorable.


Both a decision and a decision-maker can be unscrupulous.

  • The adjective modifies the word "interpretation" not the subject of the sentence.
    – Emma Dash
    Oct 22, 2015 at 14:51
  • Your question does not say the grammar of the sentence is set in stone. I trust you can modify it to express the required idea, as long as the word fits. Anyway, both a decision and a decision-maker can be unscrupulous.
    – A.P.
    Oct 22, 2015 at 15:03


: distorted or biased in meaning or effect

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language

Also, consider twisted and slanted.

twisted: having an intended meaning altered or misrepresented

slanted: favoring one person or side over another; "a biased account of the trial"; "a decision that was partial to the défendant"


I would have thought prejudicial would be the best fit.

  • This doesn't have crocodile tears in it.
    – Færd
    Oct 22, 2015 at 16:02
  • 1
    The question is ambiguous. I think Emma Dash wants a mixture of prejudicial and self-serving.
    – Færd
    Oct 22, 2015 at 16:03

specious conveys the idea of an intentional distorsion of the truth.

having a false look of truth or genuineness, falsely appearing to be fair, just, or right; appearing to be true but actually false

It's the second time this week I propose this word as an answer!

  • Specious is very close but not exactly right. The difference is that someone making a specious or caviling argument is not trying to hide it or pretend that his argument is correct. Here I want to capture the sense that the interpretation is being put forward by the judge as being reasonable when he knows very well it is not, so disengenuous seems to fit better.
    – Emma Dash
    Oct 22, 2015 at 16:52
  • @EmmaDash - What about malicious, perverted, misleading, fallacious or sophistical ?
    – Graffito
    Oct 22, 2015 at 17:51

Here are a few suitable words: phony, insincere, dishonest, deceitful and hypocritical.

But the best choice would probably be devious. You can see in the examples that it can be applied to both people and plans. So I think it would be fine to say :

Judge Clancy's devious interpretation of the Wildlife Act threatens to put our company out of business.


After some searching and consideration, the closest word I can find to this idea is dissembling. To 'dissemble' means to put on a false appearance and although it does not explicit include the idea of a self-serving purpose, it is pretty close to the meaning sought.

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