I am referring to someone who makes people ‘buy’ what he says and gets things done by them through nothing but clever speech – something one can describe as crafty or beguiling, but not fraudulent.

I pondered over con man and con artist for a while but those terms seem to hold a hint of crime, so those terms won’t fit in.

I am wondering if there is a more suitable phrase or word.

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    What you describe sounds like your typical salesman to me! Dec 31, 2012 at 14:37
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    The first word that came to mind was "slick". Also applicable might be "smooth operator" (both words, together or separate).
    – psmay
    Dec 31, 2012 at 18:24
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    I'm little confused since you ask about someone who exploits but don't want connotations of crime or fraud.
    – Jim
    Dec 31, 2012 at 19:21
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    @Jim - Not all forms of exploitation are criminal or fraudulent in the legal sense, regardless of the moral implications. For instance, someone could exploit a "friend" by having them buy their lunch every day (through unscrupulous means of persuasion). This is neither criminal, nor fraudulent, but it would be valid to say that this person is exploiting their so called friend.
    – Alexander
    Jan 1, 2013 at 1:20
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    A politician maybe ?
    – Amyth
    Jan 1, 2013 at 12:27

15 Answers 15


Sophistry is crafty speech intended to deceive, not necessarily out and out lying. So then a


is someone who does it. This is mostly just to win arguments though, not necessarily to get people to do things. That would be a demagogue, but that is someone, yes, who is clever with words but in a very specific way, appealing to the listener's baser instincts.

  • Oh good one! So the noun would be sophist right?
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Dec 31, 2012 at 14:01
  • @KitFox: Oh. Right. Yes.
    – Mitch
    Dec 31, 2012 at 14:04
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    I don't think sophist is appropriate at all. From OED – Specious but fallacious reasoning; employment of arguments which are intentionally deceptive. The OP specifically asked for non-deception words. Dec 31, 2012 at 14:32
  • @spiceyokooko: so are you saying that 'eloquence' is 'exploitative'?
    – Mitch
    Dec 31, 2012 at 15:07
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    @RitwikG: I don't think Hitler was out to just win an argument (which is what sophistry is usually about). I think 'demagogue' really did fit at some point.
    – Mitch
    Jan 1, 2013 at 16:31

Not quite a single word, but silver tongued probably fits.

  • You could hyphenate it.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Dec 31, 2012 at 13:53
  • Would that count as one word, though? Not sure...
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 31, 2012 at 13:54
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    @AndrewLeach The one-word question is something of a wild red-herring–chase. Yes, a silver-tongued devil has a one-word modifier in front of devil. But any distinction between “one word”, “one-word”, and “oneword” is purely typographic convention, not one of speech, and therefore not one of language. All are just as much of a term as the others. All can occur as headwords in any dictionary worthy of the name, and all should be be matched by a search for the others under most circumstances.
    – tchrist
    Dec 31, 2012 at 14:19
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    FWIW, most dictionaries I checked listed the noun silver tongue without a hyphen, and the adjective silver-tongued with a hyphen. Also, to echo what @tchrist said, when such expressions exist as their own entry in the dictionary, I've always considered that a legitimate answer to a single-word request, be it with or without the hyphen.
    – J.R.
    Dec 31, 2012 at 19:19

A "Snake oil salesman" is someone who uses speech to get people to believe something through their words alone and not through any empirical evidence.


"Wheedler" - from "wheedle":

v. whee·dled, whee·dling, whee·dles v.tr.

  1. To persuade or attempt to persuade by flattery or guile; cajole.

  2. To obtain through the use of flattery or guile: a swindler who wheedled my life savings out of me.


To use flattery or cajolery to achieve one's ends.

  • +1 'Snake oil salesman' was the term that immediately came to mind.
    – JAM
    Dec 31, 2012 at 15:07
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    I can't add my own answer -- but cozener would also be very appropriate. Cozen can mean to deceive, win over, or induce to do something by artful coaxing and wheedling or shrewd trickery, which is exactly what the OP had in mind. Certainly by that particular definition it is closer than wheedler.
    – starwed
    Dec 31, 2012 at 18:40
  • I like cajole I think that's a pretty close match to what the OP is looking for. Plus you're so close to 3k I'll +1 you :) Jan 1, 2013 at 0:51
  • Thanks! I love looming milestones! 3K before 2013? We'll see! (Still 5 hours away here!) Jan 1, 2013 at 1:01

Glib: fluent and easy, often in an insincere or deceptive way, artfully persuasive in speech; "a glib tongue"; "a smooth-tongued hypocrite".


This kind of person sounds like a charismatic authority—someone who holds power through a cult of personality.


The word that springs to mind for me is hawker

  • One who sells goods aggressively, especially by calling out.
  • (Business / Commerce) a person who travels from place to place selling goods

also, but archaic, would be a crier, but that word is now taken as the first two definitions, and the 3rd definition is vary rarely used


One or another of these should do you:

  • articulate
  • persuasive
  • well-worded
  • well-spoken
  • eloquent
  • convincing
  • compelling
  • unctuous
  • slimy
  • smooth
  • winning
  • enticing
  • alluring
  • beguiling
  • cajoling
  • seductive
  • inveigling
  • ensnaring
  • bewitching
  • enchanting

There’s a lot more where that came from. But I do like the aforementioned silver-tongued.


I would call somebody who can talk their way out of situations or manipulate people just with clever speech as a smooth talker or smooth operator colloquially speaking.

According to Urban Dictionary a Smooth Operator is

  1. A person who can ease their way through things, typically using words. Also may be a player. It seems this person may have a way with words and always knows what to say.

  2. They may also be cunning, wily, and might be willing to lie, cheat, or steal to get what they want.

It has good and bad connotation, it all depends on how it's used.

A more formal word to use would be suave. Merriam-Webster defines it as

smoothly though often superficially gracious and sophisticated


Wheeler-Dealer (like Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses).

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    Please cite at least one reliable source.
    – MetaEd
    Dec 31, 2012 at 21:43

The word charmer in sometimes used in this context – at least in British English, where we would also refer as someone with such oratory prowess as being able to charm the birds from the trees.


Eloquence might fit.

From Oxford English Dictionary (OED) –


The action, practice, or art of expressing thought with fluency, force, and appropriateness, so as to appeal to the reason or move the feelings. Also concr. eloquent language.

  • "Eloquence" does not imply deception.
    – aearon
    Dec 31, 2012 at 15:40
  • @aearon He's not asking for a word that implies deception he's asking for a word that implies persuasion without deception. Dec 31, 2012 at 16:43
  • He's asking for the name for a person who..., in otherwords, a noun. (btw, I'm not the downvoter) Dec 31, 2012 at 17:06

Or you could go the simple route:

1. One that swindles or plays tricks.
2. often Trickster A mischievous or roguish figure in myth or folklore, often an animal, who typically makes up for physical weakness with cunning and subversive humor.

Note that the tricks involved are normally, though not exclusively, verbal in nature.


How about some or all of

perfidious, treacherous, dishonest, false, corrupt, deceitful, untrustworthy, traitorous, two-faced, recreant, a snake


A rhetorician is a rhetoric expert: an expert at persuading people with speech.

See the “rhetorician” entry at OneLook.com for definitions and synonyms.


If you seek a definition with some connection to cult of personality I'd suggest "Svengali" and "Mesmerist." A bit obscure but they also provide some panache. It's also fun to make people look things up.