Is there a word to describe a person who is both of the following?

a) insidious - in the traditional sense...that they have a tendency to use or harm people in such a way that the victim does not realize that harm has begun and may not realize that it's been done until much later.

b) cunning, but licit -- someone for whom the ends justify even the most devious of means but ONLY insofar as the means are aligned with the letter of the law or with otherwise-accepted social norms (irrespective of whether said means are in alignment with the spirit of the law or with the nature and severity of the ends). A sleazy personal injury lawyer, a patent troll, and a professional plaintiff would all be examples of this.

There's a Russian word for this: коварный. Was wondering if there's an English equivalent with matching nuance.

Please note: this is not a request for translation.

  • In reality you are searching for a word that is also an adjective, please tag the question "single-word-request". I'd also advise modifying the title, it's too generic and too broad even if you said it's "specific" there are thousands of adjectives, the title won't attract our best contributors. Can you come up with a more descriptive title?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 26, 2019 at 1:32

2 Answers 2


Perhaps guileful or Machiavellian.

guileful (from Wiktionary, 2019):

Full of guile; treacherously deceptive.

with guile being (from Wiktionary, 2019):

Astuteness often marked by a certain sense of cunning or artful deception.

Machiavellian (from Wiktionary, 2019):

Attempting to achieve goals by cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous methods, especially in politics or in advancing one's career.


"Sly" could be a word for a person who is shady, traitorous, cunning and so on.

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