In definition,

Hypocrisy is the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity for which one criticizes another or the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform. In moral psychology, it is the failure to follow one's own expressed moral rules and principles.


Sincerity is the virtue of one who communicates and acts in accordance with the entirety of their feelings, beliefs, thoughts, and desires in a manner that is honest and genuine.

However, hypocrisy is generally taken under a negative definition. Is there a word in English that does define a hypocrite but in a positive way. For example,

  • You know that someone is being rude in front of you but in reality, they care for you.
  • Someone didn't like the food you made but they say "Wow! It's really good" even though you know you forgot to add salt (oopsie).
  • And the list goes on.

So is there any specific word in English that defines such a person?

  • Welcome to ELU. Where did these quotes come from? Please edit in citations, as there may be better definitions to use. I'm not entirely sure that your examples and use of the word hypocrite are good. Your examples don't actually fit the definition of hypocrite: they might fit the definition of insincere or perhaps liar. Hypocrisy is not "practising what you preach".
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 8:05
  • 1
    Telling someone that you like their cooking just to be kind is a white lie. Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 8:55
  • Well, yes and no. Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 11:51
  • Closure is not appropriate. The so-called duplicates do not exhaust the possibilities that should be considered in an answer. That being the case, it is poor practice, unhelpful and completely unproductive to close off discussion.
    – Anton
    Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 13:21
  • Btw my question is not a duplicate of the one it is being associated with right now. I meant an explicitly positive word and the question states "less offensive". Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 14:40

3 Answers 3


Your two examples seem pretty different.

  • You know that someone is being rude in front of you but in reality, they care for you.

This could be plain speaking, brusque, direct, has no filter, etc.

  • Someone didn't like the food you made but they say "Wow! It's really good" even though you know you forgot to add salt (oopsie).

This could be diplomatic or one of its synonyms.

Give us sample sentences to go with the scenarios and I'll cite definitions.

  • 1
    I agree the scenarios are quite different, so I’m doubtful if one word will really work.
    – k1eran
    Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 17:03
  • Best answer! However, how could the second example fall under "diplomatic". Maybe I didn't describe that example much. I meant they said It's really good because they don't want to hurt my feelings, would that still be diplomatic? Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 18:13
  • Yes, exactly. Look at some dictionaries that have plenty of examples. Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 15:53

One candidate that does not evoke quite such strong overtones of disapproval as hypocritical is duplicitous. The behaviours you describe are clearly duplicitous:

Merriam Webster.
marked by duplicity: deceptive in words or action

Duplicity :
contradictory doubleness of thought, speech, or action

Both of your examples show someone acting in a well-intentioned way that does not reflect their thoughts. They are clearly duplicitous.

But the answer is not so easy as this suggests. Because duplicity is so close to deceit, and because such misrepresentation of thought is so often done to gain advantage, the overtones are negative. If you use duplicitous to describe beneficial behaviour it may therefore be necessary to qualify it as I have done above, by well-intentioned or similar modifiers.

Hypocritical seems to go more moral in its meaning. For example,


someone who says they have particular moral beliefs but behaves in way that shows these are not sincere.

It implies an insincerity. Insincerity is not easily redeemable by good intentions, so cannot be well qualified by words such as well-intentioned.

Someone who is duplicitous in order to spare feelings will often tell a white lie:


a lie that is told in order to be polite or to stop someone from being upset by the truth

Consequently, they might be described as a "white liar" but this term is too easily confused with a liar who is white to be confidently used for your purposes.

Proper analysis would lead us into tedious examination of a whole spectrum of related and near-synonymical words. Nevertheless, duplicitous seems to allow such emphasis of its positive aspects in a way that would not have worked with hypocritical. Whoever heard of a well-intentioned hypocrite?

  • 3
    Does duplicitous really answer the question "Is there a word in English that does define a hypocrite but in a positive way?"
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 9:00
  • @AndrewLeach I share that concern. I hope it is plain that I had it in mind when I answered. In a rigidly defined way it may be argued as an answer but I am well aware - and I have made it clear - that common understanding may cloud such an argument and demand a little more subtlety of expression when using the word.
    – Anton
    Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 11:13
  • @AndrewLeach Your question prompted me to add thoughts on the related notion of white lie.
    – Anton
    Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 12:08

Is there a word in English that does define a hypocrite but in a positive way?

Calling someone a man/woman of contradictions can be a way of putting a less negative "I'm only human" veneer on hypocritical behavior.

In a profile of Robert Maxwell, Francis Wheen once noted the fondness of his biographers for the expression “man of contradictions”. This was, said Wheen, “another way of saying he is a colossal hypocrite”. Scyld Berry and ‎Lawrence Booth; The Shorter Wisden 2011-2015 (2015)

Was I a hypocrite? Maybe. But I am what I am: a man of contradictions.” Hayden cited the example of Saint Peter, who, for all his “foibles and flaws”, came to be known as "the rock of the church". "For all my shortcomings," he added, "I wanted to be one of the rocks of the Australian cricket team." Chris Waters; The Men Who Raised the Bar (2020)

But Don Lope is a man of contradictions, to some extent a hypocrite, and if he often tells Tristana that love must be freely given and that people can choose to do what they wish with their lives, he does not mean that she is free to love or be with someone other than himself. On the contrary, he keeps her at home as much as possible... Gwynne Edwards; A Companion to Luis Buñuel (2005)

Some see hypocrisy in the life of Jefferson; his reputation has lately eroded, especially since the confirmation by genetic evidence that he fathered at least one child with his slave Sally Hemings, even as he railed against miscegenation. ... He was so purely self-contradictory that his life can be read in starkly opposite senses. ... The historian Joyce Appleby has written of him, charitably one might argue: “Jefferson was not a man of contradictions so much as a man of rarely paired qualities. Wade Graham; American Eden (2011)

hypocritical (adj.)

Characterized by behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel: characterized by hypocrisy m-w

contradiction (n.)

A person, thing, or situation in which inconsistent elements are present Lexico

A situation in which inherent factors, actions, or propositions are inconsistent or contrary to one another m-w

If you are looking for a single adjective, perhaps "She led a contradictory life," "He had a contradictory personality."

contradictory (adj.)

Inconsistent in itself; containing elements opposed to each other. (OED)

A magical world view is internally contradictory and hypocritical. Robert Morey; A Christian Student's Survival Guide (2010)

To be hypocritical is to be “divided” in one's fealty to God.” Although Kingsbury describes hypocrisy as an internal contradiction, the examples of hypocrisy that he cites refer to the contradiction between the inside of a person and the outside, or the contradiction between word and deed. John Barnet; Not the Righteous but Sinners (2003)

  • Good answer, however, is there no specific "word" to describe this? Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 11:59
  • I've added "contradictory" as a possible single-word adjective.
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 12:11

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