What Does Lip Service Mean?

Lip Service Meaning

Definition: A disingenuous expression of support.

Origin of Lip Service

Both the Old and New Testaments contain references to honoring God or Jesus only with one’s lips. In other words, followers would say with their mouths that they are followers of Jesus, but their actions show a different story.

This is an example of paying lip service, which is an insincere expression of friendship, devotion, or support.

Imagine a person who claims to support an idea or action through his or her words, but who does nothing through his or her actions to follow through. That person may even actively act against what he or she claims to support.

An early English example of this term can be found from the 1644 Directory for the Publique Worship Throughout the Three Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland:

  • Pleasing themselves in their lip-service in bearing a part in it.

An earlier version, from the 1500’s, was lip labour. A common collocation is to pay lip service to something.

People often pay lip service to something that they personally disagree with, but that they believe other people support. This allows them to look good to others, while not actively engaging in an activity they disapprove of.

Examples of Lip Service

lip service definitionIn the dialogue below, two friends are talking about a problem one of them is having at work.

Ezekiel: I need your advice about a problem I’m having at work. One of my bosses always compliments me in meetings and talks about how much he approves of my ideas. However, whenever we are alone he tries to do everything in his power to undermine me.

Maggie: Maybe he knows that everyone else in the company likes your ideas and likes you, so he pays lip service to you in order to appear to like you as well. Then, when he knows no one else will see, he tries to get you to fail.

Ezekiel: That could be true. If other people started to lose faith in me, he would be free to express his own dislike of me.

Maggie: Be careful around him.

define lip serviceIn this example, two friends are discussing a third friend.

Tyrion: I’m starting to think that Nancy isn’t the true advocate we’ve always thought she was.

Mila: Why do you say that? She always has claimed to believe in economic freedom.

Tyrion: I know, but that’s all she has ever done. She always is talking about how important it is, but whenever we need her to actually do something to show her support, she fails us.

More Examples

This excerpt is about ways to protest injustice.

  • The ultimate disrespect for our flag is paying lip service to the cause American soldiers have fought and died for by reciting the national anthem at football games but not thoughtfully engaging in the betterment of our nation. These NFL players want to better the nation and are doing something about it. –Denver Post

This excerpt is about a university and a sexual harassment case.

  • “Columbia pays lip service to the ideals of a safe campus,” said David Sanford, one of the woman’s lawyers. “However, the institution has demonstrated deliberate indifference to complaints of sexual harassment. Jane Doe is now among the women harmed by Columbia University trustees’ callous disregard for students’ safety, psychological health, and emotional well being.” –New York Post

Summary

The phrase pay lip service means to proclaim approval in words only, without any actions.