Pompous and patronizing (Describing character, part 5)

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by Kate Woodford

Today, in the last of the ‘Describing character’ posts, we’re looking at words for a variety of negative characteristics, from the tendency to criticize others, the belief that you are better than everyone else.

Starting with traits that we associate with strong characters, a person who has very definite and sometimes unreasonable opinions may be said to be opinionated: They’re both quite opinionated so they don’t always get on. Someone who often argues with other people is argumentative: He won’t let anything go – he’s so argumentative.

A stubborn person is determined not to change their mind or change their plans, even when they should. It’s so obvious she needs to change her approach, but she won’t. She’s far too stubborn. A more emphatic (and informal) way of saying this is pigheaded: He was completely lost but too pigheaded to admit it and ask for directions.

Moving on now to ways of describing people who think they are better than other people, someone who is unpleasantly confident and clearly thinks they have more knowledge or better skills than anyone else may be described as arrogant: I found him arrogant and rude.

A person who shows that they think they are more important than others is sometimes described as self-important: I didn’t really like her, to be honest. She came over as rather self-important. A self-important person who speaks very seriously may be described as pompous: In the film, he’s portrayed as a rather pompous old man.  

Meanwhile, someone who is kind to you, but in a slightly insulting way, suggesting that they think you are not as clever or important as them can be described as patronizing: I tried to explain the rules to her in a way that didn’t sound patronizing.

A person who is too quick to criticize other people’s behaviour, especially relating to moral issues, may be said to be judgmental: Don’t be so judgmental! You don’t know anything about her background. The more informal adjective judgy is also used: I try not to be too judgy about other people’s parenting.

Another way in which we can behave badly is in failing to consider other people when we act. Someone who is thoughtless doesn’t think about how their actions or words may cause problems for or upset others: He’s never intentionally hurtful but he can be a bit thoughtless now and then. A person who is tactless or insensitive says or does things that show they are not aware of what upsets other people: It was a bit tactless of Rachel talk so much about her relationship when she knows Klara and Dan have just split up.

Finally, an area of bad behaviour which we often complain about in others is selfishness. Someone who is only really interested in themselves and what they are doing is sometimes described as self-absorbed: I don’t think he’s even aware of Sarah’s feelings on the matter. He’s so self-absorbed. If a person behaves as if they deserve advantages just because of who they are, without earning them, they are often described as entitled: Born into money, she comes across as spoilt and entitled.

We’ve now come to the end of this series on describing characters. We hope you’ve found it interesting and useful. If you have any suggestions for other threads, do please let us know.


23 thoughts on “Pompous and patronizing (Describing character, part 5)

  1. Paul

    Thank you Kate, I hope no one will need to deal with such people next year 😉 And it would be great to get from you a post on manners – good and bad 😉 Marry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you working on Cambridge Dictionary! You do a great job, guys 🙂

  2. The epithets of English are really so various.I guess we just cant know what the next step to do or what the next door you have to open. But that is my humble opinion.

  3. Denis

    Excellently written! 🙂
    I’d like to add a couple more:
    Confrontational – behaving in an angry or unfriendly way that is likely to cause an argument.
    Condescending – treating someone as if you are more important or more intelligent than them.
    Bigheaded/swollen-headed – thinking that you are more important or more intelligent than you really are.
    And a few idioms:
    As proud as Lucifer – extremely proud or satisfied with yourself.
    Get on your high horse – to start talking angrily about something bad that someone else has done as if you feel you are better or more clever than they are.
    Throw your weight around/about – to act as if you have a lot of power or authority.
    Be/get too big for your boots/britches – behaving as if you are more important than you really are.
    Think the whole world revolves around you – to think you are extremely important.
    Suppose you next thread was on business idioms?

  4. Maryem Salama

    How interesting! the word pigheaded reminded me of a word we frequently used
    (bigheaded), and it has the same meaning of the English word big-headed. Thank you, my dear Kate.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Maryem! Nice to hear from you. We also use ‘bigheaded’, referring to someone who has a very high opinion of themselves. Best wishes!

  5. SanM

    I will accept how you see me and thought about me. I’m not perfect but I’m always willing and open for a change for a better me. I accepted the way you are but it would be better if you try to change your flaws and correct your wrong doings for a better you.
    Good communication, love,patience and understanding is the key. ❣️

  6. Ricardo

    Thanks, this website is trully assisting me on learning and improving my vocabulary as I travel abroad for work with people who use english as means of communication.

  7. Adrian King

    How about ostentatious?
    Those who knew him his shelves of untouched books -nary a paperback- thought him ostentatious. Those who knew him knew of his obsession with publishing-and printing- as art.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Adrian! Thanks for this. I tend to think of this adjective applying more to gestures, lifestyles, etc. than people directly, though of course it is a criticism! Best wishes.

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