Shiftty [shifty], shallow, phoney and the like

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Senior Member
Português - Brasil
Hi everyone. Could somebody clarify the difference in meaning among shiftty, shallow, phoney and deceitful when describing somebody´s character? To me it sounds like they have all the same meaning, that is to say, being dishonest.

Thank you!
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    If somebody is "shifty" that person is deceitful, or unreliable. If somebody is "shallow", that person is interested in superficial things. If somebody is "phony" or "deceitful", that person is dishonest. "Phony" and "shifty" are more colloquial than "deceitful".

    The only one out of your list that has nothing to do with dishonesty is "shallow". You can be shallow and honest at the same time.


    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    A shifty person might look around quietly - might shift their eyes slowly and carefully - to make sure no-one is watching, before they do something dishonest. We usually call someone shifty if they seem to be the sort of person who would do that: we don't actually have to catch them doing something wrong, just think they don't look trustworthy, because of the way they behave.

    A shallow person need not be dishonest. They don't think much, they don't care much, perhaps they like nothing but popular entertainment, and it's difficult to discuss anything seriously with them.

    A phoney person is one who pretends to be other than what they are - they put on a phoney smile, perhaps, when they don't really care about you; or they say they like something fashionable because they think it sounds better if they do. Someone trying to sell you something might be both phoney and shifty.

    Deceitful is normally about the words they use - they tell lies, or say things that give you the wrong impression, knowing you'll think the wrong thing.
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