What adjective do you use to describe something that you say, but you do not really mean it. For example when you make an offer to someone, but you don't really mean it and kind of hope they say no! Let's say in a rather insincere way, although you are trying to be polite.
What type of offer is that? Or is there a phrase or something used to refer to that?

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    Fake? A lie? B*llshit? Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 17:53
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    It's not uncommon to "disavow" some statement or promise you made previously by saying That was just talk. If you want a more upmarket term (to explain why you said We must have lunch together, when you've no intention of following through), you might say That was just politesse (OED: Formal politeness; etiquette. Also: an instance of this). Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 18:02
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    Hi, Cheiloproclitic, you need to clarify with more context. Your title and body are asking for an "adjective". Are you looking for an adjective? The below answer is not an adjective.
    – user140086
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 18:21
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    Clearly, it's a "campaign promise".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 19:03
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    You have the answer in your question: an insincere offer.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 20:23

9 Answers 9


That type of offer is called an Empty gesture.

Urban Dictionary definition:

to say something without an intention of actually doing it. Making an offer that is not intended to be fulfilled or even taken up by someone.

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    I wonder if an empty gesture is something less than polite. I believe the author answered the question himself. It's just being polite. But I'm not sure here. It would be a subtle difference.
    – user116032
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 20:06
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    I think there's a subtle difference - an offer which is called an "empty gesture" is made in the knowledge that it almost certainly won't be accepted: usually because it's too late to make any difference. So i think an empty gesture is a type of insincere offer, but the two things aren't the same. Commented Mar 8, 2016 at 8:24
  • This is very common in some cultures (e.g. Japan and to a lesser extent, England). It is considered polite to make the offer and equally polite to refuse or ignore it.
    – user184130
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 18:38

token, one of whose meanings is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary

  1. passing into adj. Serving as a token; pro forma; (purely) symbolic; constituting a gesture (only); minimal, nominal, perfunctory....

1962 N.Y. Times Mag. 5 Aug. 11 The current notion that token integration will satisfy his people, says Dr. King, is an illusion.

Example (made up)

She made a token offer to cook tonight, but I knew if I accepted, she would only microwave a TV dinner.

Another possibility is perfunctory, from the OED

a. Of an action, deed, work, etc.: done merely as a matter of duty,
form, or routine, and so without interest, care, or enthusiasm;
carried out with a minimum of effort; formulaic, mechanical;
superficial, trivial.

1922 M. A. von Arnim Enchanted April 172 He might answer,—a hurried scribble, showing how much bored he was at doing it, with perfunctory thanks for her letter.

b. Of a person: acting merely by way of duty or routine, or for form's sake and so without interest, care, or enthusiasm; superficial, offhand; formal, formulaic.

Example (made up):

Prof X made a vague, perfunctory offer to write me a letter of recommendation, if I needed one from him, but I decided not to pursue the matter.


Insincere is a great choice here:

"not sincere; not honest in the expression of actual feeling; hypocritical. " http://www.dictionary.com/browse/insincere


I second insincere and perfunctory mentioned in other answers.
In addition, I suggest hollow offer/gesture.
Also, specifically for a formal/polite situation, such a gesture is an example of going through the motions.


2.1 Insincere.
‘a hollow promise’

‘It was a very hollow gesture.’
‘A fervent protester since her early college days, this is a woman who believes in action and follow-through rather than hollow promises made on election campaigns.’

Usage examples: Google search for "hollow offer"


go through the motions
Do something perfunctorily, or merely pretend to do it.
For example, The team is so far behind that they're just going through the motions, or
She didn't really grieve at his death; she just went through the motions.

[The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.]

  • I like "going through the motions" (it is part of the expected social interaction) but not "insincere" ...
    – user184130
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 18:40

How about disingenuous?

From M-W:

disingenuous: not truly honest or sincere : giving the false appearance of being honest or sincere

With regard to the OP's question, disingenuous captures well "something that you say but don't really mean". And if I "make an offer to someone but don't really mean it, and hope the say no", I am being disingenuous.


For form's sake

I'm not finding a definition, but it's mentioned in the thesaurus here.

Here's how you might use it:

I sent an invitation to Aunt Sally for form's sake [even though she's too infirm to travel that distance]


conciliatory, placating, mollifying

  • Welcome to EL&U! An answer here needs a little more than a few words (although they're not bad answers) try adding a dictionary link and some explanation as to why you think these words fit. Also, give that this question is 2 years old and has an accepted answer it might not be the best for a new answer, have a look at some of the new ones. Commented May 21, 2018 at 13:57


Sarcasm refers to the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say, especially in order to insult someone, or to show irritation, or just to be funny. For example, saying "they're really on top of things" to describe a group of people who are very disorganized is using sarcasm. https://www.merriam-webster.com › ... Sarcasm Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster


You could call such an offer perfunctory, which indicates that an action or gesture is superficially carried out mainly as a matter of routine or expectation, rather than with sincere effort or meaning. It suggests that the offer is being made mainly to fulfill others' social expectations, rather than with the hope that it is accepted.

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