What is the word for when you feel like a fake? You are not trying to cheat anybody, but know that you are simply out of your depth / out of your class about something. This especially happens in technical conferences. There is a word for it but I don't remember what it is.

  • 1
    It just might be that you have a conscience.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 13:11
  • 1
    The answer will depend on how realistic the perception of being out of one's depth is, won't it? It might or might not be impostor syndrome; if the person really and factually is out of their depth, and just happen to find themselves among their superiors (without wanting to cheat), then it really is inadequacy rather than impostor syndrome.
    – anemone
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 15:00

5 Answers 5


Impostor Syndrome

Sounds like you’re talking about the recently described phenomenon that has come to be called impostor syndrome, which Wikipedia says is:

a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud".

Around a year ago now on October 26, 2015, Carl Richards wrote a New York Times piece entitled “Learning to Deal With the Impostor Syndrome” discussing “this fear that you’re bumping up against the limits of your ability”.

Apparently this is a common sentiment amongst high-functioning individuals. Given the nature of technical conferences, it is easy to imagine someone attending these feeling so overwhelmed by the dense technical topics they’re being exposed to there that some would find themselves stricken with impostor syndrome.


You could call a person like this a sham or a fraud.

I felt like a fraud, pretending to know all about those nookular reactors.

  • I like your contribution, but you have given synonyms of 'fake' rather than a feeling (an abstract noun). Perhaps you sould write "fraudulent."
    – ahorn
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 11:31

pretentious /prɪˈtɛnʃəs/


Attempting to impress by affecting greater importance (talent, culture, style, intellect, knowledge, skill etc.) or merit than is actually possessed.

  • ‘He also had a convoluted and elaborate manner of speech that many thought pretentious.’

  • ‘pretentious art films’

  • ‘the pretentious jargon of wine experts’

Mid 19th cent ury: from French prétentieux, from prétention (see pretension).

Paraphrased from: • https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/pretentious                  &                • https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/pretentious


You might also like to say that you went through or are going through

a crisis in confidence



lacking the quality or quantity required; insufficient for a purpose.
"these labels prove to be wholly inadequate"

The Oxford Dictionary of English by Angus Stevenson (2010)

synonyms: insufficient, not enough, deficient, poor, scant, scanty. — Oxford Living Dictionaries

  • 4
    That doesn’t refer to feeling like a fake. Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 10:41
  • 3
    “Google search” is not a valid citation.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 12:28
  • @JanusBahsJacquet dusting off my dunce's cap Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 13:59
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    @tchrist It'd be good to explain why Google is not a proper citation at least, especially since Ronald was trying to adhere to the guidelines by attempting to give due credit, unlike many others and Google's define function (which returns this result) is infamously misleading. Basically Google does not have their own dictionary, but it sources definitions from other dictionaries, which change frequently and may even vary from user to user based on some circumstances.
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 19:33

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