AskDefine | Define hypocrisy

Dictionary Definition



1 an expression of agreement that is not supported by real conviction [syn: lip service]
2 insincerity by virtue of pretending to have qualities or beliefs that you do not really have

User Contributed Dictionary



From ipocrisie < Old French ypocrisie < Late Latin hypocrisis < Greek ὑπόκρισις (answer, stage acting, pretense) < ὑποκρίνεσθαι (to play a role, pretend) < ὑπό (under) + the middle voice of κρίνω (to separate, judge, decide) < Proto-Indo-European base *krei- (to sieve, to discriminate, to distinguish). The Greek word evolved from ὑποκρίνομαι (to separate gradually) to ὑπόκρισις (answer) to ὑποκριτής (actor, pretender, hypocrite).


  1. The claim, pretense, or false representation of holding beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not actually possess.


Claim, pretense, or false representation of holding beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not actually possess

Extensive Definition

For the death metal band, see Hypocrisy (band).
Hypocrisy (or the state of being a hypocrite) is the act of preaching a certain belief or way of life, but not, in fact, holding these same virtues oneself. (Example: The United States Government does not allow God to be taught in school, and yet "In God We Trust" is on the back of the United States Dollar and other coins.) Hypocrisy is frequently invoked as an accusation in debates, in politics, and in life in general.
For linguist and social analyst Noam Chomsky, hypocrisy, defined as the refusal to "...apply to ourselves the same standards we apply to others" is one of the central evils of our society--promoting injustices such as war and social inequalities in a framework of self-deception, which includes the notion that hypocrisy itself is a necessary or beneficial part of human behavior and society.
In other languages, including French, a hypocrite is one who hides his intentions and true personality. This definition is different from that of the English language.


The word hypocrisy derives from the Greek ὑπόκρισις (hypokrisis), which means "play-acting", "acting out", "feigning, dissembling" or "an answer". The word hypocrite is from the Greek word ὑποκρίτης (hypokrites), the agentive noun associated with υποκρίνομαι (hypokrinomai), i.e. "I play a part." Both derive from the verb κρίνω, "judge" (»κρίση, "judgment" »κριτική (kritiki), "critics") presumably because the performance of a dramatic text by an actor was to involve a degree of interpretation, or assessment, of that text.
The word can be further understood as an amalgam of the Greek prefix hypo-, meaning "under", and the verb "krinein", meaning "to sift or decide". Thus the original meaning is given as a deficiency in the ability to sift or decide. This deficiency, as it pertains to one's own beliefs and feelings, does well to inform the word's contemporary meaning.
Whereas hypokrisis applied to any sort of public performance (including the art of rhetoric), hypokrites was a technical term for a stage actor and was not considered an appropriate role for a public figure. In Athens in the 4th Century BC, for example, the great orator Demosthenes ridiculed his rival Aeschines, who had been a successful actor before taking up politics, as a hypokrites whose skill at impersonating characters on stage made him an untrustworthy politician. This negative view of the hypokrites, perhaps combined with the Roman disdain for actors, later shaded into the originally neutral hypokrisis. It is this later sense of hypokrisis as "play-acting," i.e. the assumption of a counterfeit persona, that gives the modern word hypocrisy its negative connotation. In all this, we do not find the modern idea that the hypocrite is unaware that his performance or argument stands in contradiction with his self: on the contrary, a hypocrite in antiquity was someone who intentionally tried to deceive others.

Hypocrisy and morality

Hypocrisy has been described, alongside lack of sincerity, as a characteristic which attracts particular opprobrium in the modern age. Many belief systems condemn behaviours related to hypocrisy. In some translations of the Book of Job, the Hebrew word chaneph is rendered as "hypocrite," though it usually means "godless" or "profane." In the Christian Bible, Jesus condemns the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites in the passage known as the Woes of the Pharisees. In the Buddhist text Dhammapada, Gautama Buddha condemns a man who takes the appearance of an ascetic but is full of passions within. In Islam, the Qur'an rails against the munafiq - those who claim to be believers and peacemakers but are not.

Psychology of hypocrisy

In psychology, hypocritical behavior is closely related to the fundamental attribution error: individuals are more likely to explain their own actions by their environment, yet they attribute the actions of others to 'innate characteristics', thus leading towards judging others while justifying ones' own actions.
Also, some people genuinely fail to recognize that they have character faults which they condemn in others. This is called psychological projection. This is self-deception rather than deliberate deception of other people. In other words, "psychological hypocrisy" is usually interpreted by psychological theorists to be an unconscious defense mechanism rather than a conscious act of deception, as in the more classic connotation of hypocrisy. People understand vices which they are struggling to overcome or have overcome in the past. Efforts to get other people to overcome such vices may be sincere. There may be an element of hypocrisy as well if the actors do not readily admit to themselves or to others how far they are or have been subject to these vices.

Theoretical issues

Multiple theories of hypocrisy have been proposed. The conflict caused by contradiction can lead to differing outcomes.
In organizational studies, theorists like Nils Brunsson have discussed the paradox of the morality of hypocrisy. Brunsson reasons that, despite conventional social reactions to it, hypocrisy may be an essential guard against fanaticism, and may be to the benefit of high values and moral behaviour.
A few business theorists have studied the utility of hypocrisy, and some have suggested that the conflicts manifested as hypocrisy are a necessary or beneficial part of human behavior and society.


hypocrisy in Arabic: نفاق
hypocrisy in German: Heuchelei
hypocrisy in Spanish: Hipocresía
hypocrisy in Esperanto: Hipokrito
hypocrisy in French: Hypocrisie
hypocrisy in Hindi: मुनाफ़िक़
hypocrisy in Croatian: Licemjerje
hypocrisy in Hungarian: Álszenteskedés
hypocrisy in Dutch: Hypocrisie
hypocrisy in Japanese: 偽善
hypocrisy in Occitan (post 1500): Ipocrisia
hypocrisy in Polish: Hipokryzja
hypocrisy in Portuguese: Hipocrisia
hypocrisy in Russian: Лицемерие
hypocrisy in Albanian: Hipokrizia
hypocrisy in Serbian: Хипокризија
hypocrisy in Finnish: Tekopyhyys
hypocrisy in Yiddish: היפאקריטיע

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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