I'm looking for a word/phrase that would describe a dishonest politician. Example: "He is a ___ ." Maybe something idiomatic or colloquial.

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    This was asked on english.SE, although I (a reasonable literate native English speaker) cannot say I recognized a single suggestion. Jul 2, 2017 at 17:21
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    @Malvolio I agree, none of those are in common usage. I would avoid them.
    – Andrew
    Jul 2, 2017 at 17:50
  • @Malvolio amusing - that answer has two words that are the same.
    – Catija
    Jul 3, 2017 at 22:51

8 Answers 8


In the US at least, a common term is "crook". While this is actually slang for any criminal, it is often applied to politicians because of former president Richard Nixon's infamous claim, "I am not a crook!"

Which turned out to be a boldfaced lie, but that's a long story.

(Edit) More recently, during his election campaign, current President Donald Trump frequently referred to his opponent as "Crooked Hillary", to foster the impression that she used her political position for personal gain. Which is not meant to imply it is or is not a valid claim, only that the term "crook" is still in use.

  • "Richard Nixon's infamous claim, 'I am not a crook!'... turned out to be a boldfaced lie" -- well, that's what crooks do, lie about not being crooks. "Foster the impression that she used her political position for personal gain." -- an impression more thoroughly fostered by the Clintons' actual behavior; see Nixon, R.M., but Trump's willingness to call them out on it did much to further Trump's (otherwise unsupportable) image as a straight-shooter. Jul 3, 2017 at 1:32
  • @Malvolio obviously there are going to be strong opinions about Trump's assertion, but a full discussion is way beyond the scope of ELL. And probably too soon -- Nixon's perfidy has been public record for over 40 years, so perhaps in another 40 historians will look back and judge.
    – Andrew
    Jul 3, 2017 at 6:14

You can say "a crooked politician" or "a dishonest politician", but the phrase "a corrupt politician" is more common.


I don't know of a single word for dishonest politicians. Usually we use an adjective. Khan's answer has good examples ("crooked" and "corrupt").

There are derogatory words for some kinds of politicians:

  • Carpetbagger: A political candidate who seeks election in an area where they have no local connections. (Meaning they move to a place so they can run for office there.)

  • Demagogue: A leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power. (This is usually derogatory, but not always. See also Oxford's definition.)

  • Apparatchik: A blindly devoted official, follower, or member of an organization (such as a corporation or political party). (This doesn't have to be a politician, but can be.)

  • Chickenhawk: A person who speaks out in support of war yet has avoided active military service. (This doesn't have to be a politician, but can be.)

For your purpose, you can also use more general words like "hack (2 n. 3a)", "shill (2 n. 1b)", or simply "liar".

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    +1 for four excellent choices. Regarding demagogue, I don't think "false claims" is a defining characteristic, but it's very hard to define demagogue concisely in a way that clearly indicates that peculiar type of politician, and indeed, AFAIK, in practice all demagogues have been liars. If you're curious, the Wikipedia article has more info (including Reinhard Luthin's definition).
    – Ben Kovitz
    Jul 3, 2017 at 4:50

Try political hack. That has negative connotations, and unfortunately seems to describe most modern-day politicians.


If you want a single-word synonym, politico might serve. From Oxford Dictionaries:

informal, derogatory
A politician or person with strong political views.

On the other hand, if you want a more colorful phrase, snake oil salesman is frequently used. This specifically means someone who is selling or promoting something (originally medicinal) that they know is useless, but it seems to come up very often today in the realm of politics.

There is a good discussion of the history of "snake oil" in NPR's Code Switch, which notes:

Because the words "snake oil" are so evocative, it has been a favorite go-to phrase for politicians and lobbying groups on both sides of the aisle. Earlier this month, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell called his opponent in the Republican primary, Tea Party candidate Matt Bevin, a snake oil salesman in a campaign mailer. While campaigning for a second term last year, President Obama referred to the Romney-Ryan tax plan as "trickle-down snake oil" at a rally. In 2008, the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund took out full-page ads in The Washington Post to denounce then-President George W. Bush's plan to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, calling it "100 percent snake oil."

Note that politico literally means politician with negative overtones, but snake oil salesman means specifically a dishonest politician. This is a subtle but important distinction; one suggests that essentially anyone engaged in politics is somehow tainted, while the other leaves room for the possibility that some politicians are honest.

In fact, the former view is widespread enough in the US that politician itself is now vaguely insulting. For example:

'You're a politician?' She's surprised by the distaste she hears in her own voice. She's never met a politician before. Hadn't ever thought she would want to. —Alex Marwood, The Killer Next Door

You gross lout, you mindless slave
You caterpillar of the commonwealth, you politician
You worshiper of idiots
—Excerpted from a list of insults, Alex Barton, Style for Actors



noun. Slang. One, especially a politician, who is guided by personal advantage rather than by consistent, respectable principles. (source)

  • Could you edit your post to give some usage notes? For example, is this commonly used nowadays, and where?
    – Em.
    Jul 14, 2020 at 4:34

Shyster: n. informal chiefly US a person, esp a lawyer or politician, who uses discreditable or unethical methods.


the word demagogue might be just what you are looking for

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    We usually ask for a dictionary entry or a brief explanation with answers.
    – Em.
    Jul 2, 2017 at 22:08
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    Actually this is incorrect. A demagogue is defined as "a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power". A politician can be a demagogue, or corrupt, or both, or neither.
    – Andrew
    Jul 3, 2017 at 0:35
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    This could become a good answer, with some explanation. It might be what the OP is looking for, or not; it would be good to provide enough information to help the OP decide. The word демагог in colloquial Russian means something quite different from "demagogue" in English. Possibly Russian politics is so overrun with corrupt demagogues that that the OP hasn't distinguished between demagoguery and corruption. The Wikipedia article provides a lot of info.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Jul 3, 2017 at 4:24

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