What is a Hypocrite?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

In the modern sense, a hypocrite is someone who criticizes something that he also does, or someone who acts in manner that he specifically does not condone.This is considered to be a bad thing, in most cases, and there are plenty of idioms that express when someone is acting in this manner. “The pot calling the kettle black,” is a classic one, and “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” is equally popular.

Parents who smoke behave in a hypocritical manner when they tell their children not to do so.
Parents who smoke behave in a hypocritical manner when they tell their children not to do so.

Parenting can be a fertile field for finding examples of hypocrisy. A parent who smokes and tells her children not to, is reeking of tobacco and hypocrisy. It’s difficult to expect children to take such a parent seriously, since he or she is acting in a manner that cancels out his or her advice. Similarly, a parent who curses frequently will have a hard time convincing his or her children not to swear.

Parents who curse appear to be hypocrites when they reprimand their children for doing the same thing.
Parents who curse appear to be hypocrites when they reprimand their children for doing the same thing.

Political candidates and commentators from all sides of the political spectrum can act with hypocrisy. Candidates who run on “family values” platforms and then have affairs are a good example. When their behavior is exposed, much of what they do or say in all aspects of their lives or political careers is called into question.

Comedians, especially those who evaluate politicians, often find hypocrisy one of the easiest things to mock. Political satire shows like The Colbert Report and The Daily Show often focus on how political candidates make statements that are hypocritical. They point out statements political leaders have made in the past to show that their positions do not stay static and often contradict what they’ve previously stated. In other words, they set double standards: one for themselves, and one for the rest of the world.

While the hypocrite may at some times be laughable, at other times, particularly when looking at people with political power, it can reduce faith in the political system and politics in general. People grow weary of scandals, lies, and deliberate hypocrisy, and they may wonder if any politician is free from such behavior. Psychologists have suggested that people tend to be most critical about characteristics in others that they most hate in themselves. Perhaps it is impossible to never be 100% straightforward, though the goal of having a person's words match his or her deeds is a good one to set.

Historically, the definition of this word has evolved over time, and now has a completely different meaning from its original one. In Ancient Greece, a hypocrite was someone who played a part, acted a part, or dissembled. Hypocrisy was the tool of actors, rhetoricians, and debaters. Specifically in rhetoric and debate, each side of an argument must be assigned, and a person must then take whichever part to his or her fullest capacity. People understand that the side they take may not represent their true point of view; instead, it’s merely a position in an argument that helps them to better understand the sides of an issue.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


Hypocrites are often obsessed with hypocrisy. For example, when they talk about something, they use to say 'I'm not a hypocrite' or 'I don't want to look like a hypocrite,' et simila.


What about people who do wild and crazy things on television and then tell everyone else not to try it at home? Are these people hypocrites?


I think a hypocrite is a person who actively participates in something that they tell others not to do. If they have done it in the past and have stopped, then they don't qualify as hypocritical.

So, my brother watching violent movies and telling his son not to is hypocritical. However, my sister, who stopped drinking years ago, telling her child not to touch alcohol, is not hypocritical at all.


@feasting – Go easy on your friends. Take a good long look at yourself first, because we are all guilty of hypocrisy at some point in our lives.

It is next to impossible to avoid talking about other people while they are not listening. It's part of social life, and while it can be hurtful at times, it can also help us find our places in society and determine what is acceptable behavior and what isn't.

If you can honestly say that you have never done anything hypocritical in your whole life, then maybe you should have a different set of friends. However, I have a feeling that some good old self-examination will reveal that you have.


I have several hypocrites as friends. They go on and on about how talking about someone behind their back is bad, and then they go and talk to each other about me while they think I'm not listening.

What they don't know is that I heard the whole conversation. I haven't decided how to act upon this knowledge of their hypocrisy yet, but I feel that I need to either confront them about it or stop spending time with them.


The "tu quoque" fallacy is something people may want to read about. It's very closely related.


A hypocrite, in simpler forms, is a person who blames another person for doing something that they do as well. Like if I say, "Hey brother, you left the computer on!" and I left the computer on as well, I'd be a so-called "hypocrite."


This doesn't explain the consequential apathy that results from the fear of identifying as a hypocrite. Apathy is more damaging to society than hypocrisy.


This helped a lot but i agree it does not explain the greek origin.


this doesn't explain the greek origin and what it meant back then.


this was really good information.

Post your comments
Forgot password?