I originally thought of the word "disingenuous," except that my dictionary gives the definition as "not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does." I'm looking for a word that's similar in meaning, but with an emphasis on pretending to know something (rather than pretending not to know something).

Example sentence: Citing statistics he made up, the _____ salesman claimed that his weight-loss pills were miracle workers.

  • 6
    If the intent is to appear smarter than one actually is, I'd go with "pretentious". Commented May 9, 2016 at 19:24
  • I've seen some answers on StackExchange like that. Someone giving an answer without really knowing anything about it. Of course we always reject such answers, right?
    – GEdgar
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 22:07
  • IMO, salesmen only needs adjectives when this is not what you mean. He kept trying to [sell me / lead me on].
    – Mazura
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 23:45
  • 4
    I'm not making this an answer because I don't think it's widely used these days, but it fits quite well: mountebank a fast-talking crook pretending to be an expert vocabulary.com/dictionary/mountebank Commented May 9, 2016 at 23:51
  • 3
    'Manager' is the word you looking for LOL ;)
    – Nebula
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 9:41

16 Answers 16


Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary defines the word charlatanic (alternative form charlatanical) as

: of or like a charlatan : marked by or given to pretension and quackery

In turn, the same source defines the noun charlatan as

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

I'd be a little hesitant to use charlatanic or charlatanical, since they are very infrequently used; I'd worry that readers might think I had just coined the word. I'd rather work the noun into the sentence, for example,

Citing statistics he made up, the salesman, that charlatan, claimed that his weight-loss pills were miracle workers.

But the adjectives do exist in some dictionaries if an adjective is really what you need.

  • 2
    Charlatans and quacks are erroneous, but needn't necessarily be wholly (or even partly) insincere; a charlatan might be overconfident, over-celebrated, oblivious, jealous, paranoid, or delusional, with some "white lies" on the side.
    – agc
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 2:48
  • 2
    @agc Your evidence? A quack might sometimes merely be ignorant of his or her own incompetence, but I don't recall charlatan used that way.
    – David K
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 4:24
  • Quacks need not be incompetent, they may just be strenuously wrong about things -- but they could be competently wrong, i.e. perfect technique, wrong premise. Re charlatan see Pope Brock's excellent study of John R. Brinkley.
    – agc
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 8:03
  • 1
    @agc "John R. Brinkley–America’s most brazen young con man" books.google.com/… -- yes, that's a glowing endorsement of sincerity. And I don't think we need to debate what it means for a quack to be competent; quack is not an exact synonym for charlatan and I did not suggest it in the answer.
    – David K
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 12:07
  • 1
    As you say, charlatanic and charlatanical are very unusual words. They appear in Merriam-Webster's unabridged online dictionary (not MW's Learner's Dictionary, I think) but not in the Eleventh Collegiate, indicating that those forms are not in mainstream use. A Google Books search for "charlatan doctor" draws almost 200 matches. "Charlatanical doctor" yields very few non-dictionary matches, and "charlatanic doctor" just one.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 19:11

[...] the bullshitting salesman claimed [...] .

4. (intr) to talk in an exaggerated or foolish manner.
5. (tr) to talk bullshit to (a person).

Usage: Bullshit was formerly considered to be taboo, and it was labelled as such in older editions of Collins English Dictionary. However, it has now become acceptable in speech, although some older or more conservative people may object to its use.
Collins English Dictionary:

Note: For a less objectionable variation (if you can rework sentence to use a noun), consider bull - actually an older form, rather than a contraction.


I like the word deceitful in this case:

guilty of or involving deceit; deceiving or misleading others. MW

In the above definition, they give this example:

charged the store owner with such deceitful practices as inflating the list prices for items only so he could put them on sale at drastically reduced prices

In your case:

Citing statistics he made up, the deceitful salesman claimed that his weight-loss pills were miracle workers.

He is knowingly passing false information.


Perhaps dissembling. Oxford Online defines dissemble as

Conceal one’s true motives, feelings, or beliefs: an honest, sincere person with no need to dissemble

Or you could just say lying or fraudulent.

If you want something a bit more metaphoric, you could use snake oil

A product, policy, etc. of little real worth or value that is promoted as the solution to a problem: the new tax plan was denounced as snake oil

Oxford Dictionaries Online

In your example, it has an especially nice ring

Citing statistics he made up, the snake oil salesman claimed that his weight-loss pills were miracle workers.

  • I find snake-oil especially apt in regards to sales, as that's where the term originated (AFAIK) Commented May 10, 2016 at 15:57

A general word for "pretending to know more than one actually does" is "pretentious," which is defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary as:

Attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed.

This doesn't connote deliberate, blatant falsehoods; rather it suggests plausible-sounding invention in place of knowledge. It doesn't quite fit your example sentence.

You could also just use "dishonest."


You could also consider bluffer or bluffing.


try to deceive someone as to one's abilities or intentions.

In the context of the question it would be the abilities part of the definition that is of relevance (as in the "bluffer's guide" series of books where the title refers to feigning unwarranted expertise).

  • I think that this is typically more gentle than the OPs question asked for, but if someone wants a gentle variety, this one certainly fits the bill. Commented May 10, 2016 at 15:59

I'd suggest, wily

wily (and guileful) stress an attempt to ensnare or entrap; they usually imply treacherous astuteness or sagacity and a lack of scruples regarding the means to one's end.

M-W's Dictionary of Synonyms

wily implies skill and deception in maneuvering.



I think you may use untrustworthy:

  • not worthy of being trusted: untrustworthy witnesses.

I would go with shyster.

: a dishonest person especially : a dishonest lawyer or politician — often used before another noun


In the sense of a persuasive person, consider:

The silver-tongued salesman claimed that his weight-loss pills were miracle workers.

Definition: able to speak in a way that makes other people do or believe what you want them to do or believe (informal usually pejorative).


Self-aggrandizing is a candidate I've not seen mentioned yet that would be a decent fit.

One of the definitions of aggrandize from Mirram-Webster is:

to make appear great or greater


Nowadays, both noun and verb are regularly paired (somewhat disparagingly) with the prefix self- to refer to individuals bent on glorifying themselves


There's no adequate single adjective in English that specifically describes willfully and knowingly pretending to know more than one actually does.

Combining two words might work: pseudo-expert, pretend-scholar, techno-pretender, puff-peddler, cuff-notes, fake-brained, glib-grader, cerebral impersonator...


Not really an answer in the case that the person actually knows he is misleading someone. But that can be horribly difficult to tell sometimes.

If it is the case that the person honestly thinks he is knowledgeable and trying to help by showing his knowledge, you could say he has climbed mount stupid. It is a phase in learning when confidence has grown much faster than actual skill so a person actually can think they know lots but it really isn't warranted.


Try crafty

marked by subtlety and guile.

Subtlety means the quality of being difficult to detect or analyze and guile means the use of clever and usually dishonest methods to achieve something.

  • I think that's a false definition for "guile"; the New Oxford American has it as "sly or cunning intelligence." It doesn't have the same connotations at all as "dishonest."
    – Wildcard
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 22:56
  • 1
    Simply claiming to be smarter or more knowledgeable than you actually are doesn't strike me as an example of craftiness or guile. Commented May 10, 2016 at 17:29
  • @Wildcard see the definition guile at Merriam Webster.
    – vickyace
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 17:32
  • @HopelessN00b Where is "knowledgeable and smarter"? It is neither stated nor implied.
    – vickyace
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 17:33
  • 1
    Well, anything's possible. Maybe he's also a serial killer. But regardless, I don't see how "crafty" applies here. All we have is that he's dishonestly claiming to be more knowledgeable than he is. How is that an example of craftiness? It doesn't strike me as clever or subtle, or anything along those lines. <shrug> Commented May 10, 2016 at 17:50

It's not one word, but if someone is withholding information, you can say they aren't being upfront.

  • 1
    Agreed that it's not one word. You should really include the space, don't you think?
    – Wildcard
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 18:03

For your example sentence, you could use 'confident' as in 'confidence man'. Wouldn't work in a general sense though.

of, relating to, or adept at swindling by false promises, e.g.: a confidence game; a confidence man

  • 2
    You're confusing "confident" and one particular usage of "confidence". "Confident" does not imply dishonesty as asked in the question.
    – TrevorD
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 22:19
  • My answer included that. In the example sentence, talking about a lying salesman, the meaning of confident would be quite apparent. I agree the general meaning of confident is different. But a 'con man' is exactly the kind of person the OP was asking about, who implies he knows more than what he does.
    – Fai
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 23:15
  • Your answer was unclear. You said "you could use 'confident'", but then you referred to 'confidence', appearing to equate the two. And you've given no explanation or reference about what your suggested terms mean. If part of your answer is a quotation from another source, then please reference the source.
    – TrevorD
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 23:26
  • A con man is a man that performs a confidence trick. Nobody ever rephrases that as "confidence man". Commented May 11, 2016 at 6:45
  • Golfing for terms... Overconfident isn't quite it, as overconfidence is usually oblivious, and not a pretense. Pseudoconfident connotes obliviousness as well. Mock confidence implies jocularity. Sham confidence implies theatricality. Proactive confidence might be misunderstood, and be taken literally rather than ironically. Going the other way, subconfident, in the sense of substandard...
    – agc
    Commented May 23, 2016 at 17:09

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.