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When I talk to my cousin about many topics, he talks to me like he knows everything (cars, sport, education, etc.). He doesn't listen to me much and he talks as if he is an expert in everything but I don't think all that he says is right.

This is a list of his characteristics:

  • He doesn't listen to me much.
  • He talks down to me a bit (not so obvious, but I can feel it).
  • He talks as if he knows everything.
  • He sometimes belittles my suggestions.

Can we call him a "smart alec"?

I know that "smart alec" is a person who thinks they are very clever and likes to show people this in an annoying way.

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  • 1
    It's not exactly a phrase to describe the person directly, but this sounds like it's the Dunning–Kruger effect, where someone with little knowledge, experience, or real understanding of a topic speaks as if they are an expert in that topic. Jan 30, 2023 at 23:13
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    For me 'smart-alec' is ascribed to someone impudent (and cheeky as BobRodes says), not arrogant and belittling. It's for the person who finds the loophole, or the short-cut for doing something that they weren't expected to do. One word (that hasn't been suggested yet) that fits your question is 'cocksure'.
    – mcalex
    Jan 31, 2023 at 8:11
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    Isn't this the new term, Mansplaining?
    – raddevus
    Jan 31, 2023 at 20:16
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    He's a know-it-all. Someone removed my joke. Too bad. :)
    – Lambie
    Jan 31, 2023 at 22:38
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    This is definitely not a "smart alec." Assuming the word doesn't need to be male specific, know-it-all is a good candidate. After reviewing the existing answers, I don't think you'll find a closer, more universally understood term for this in present day America than "know-it-all." It captures the obnoxiousness, and will be understood to have the tongue-in-cheek implication that the person doesn't actually know it all as often as they think they do.
    – bubbleking
    Feb 1, 2023 at 17:01

16 Answers 16

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"Smart alec" is good. But I would say that "know-it-all" is better. Smart alec has a sense of impudence ("cheek" as the Brits would say), which I'm not sure you're trying to convey. It seems more like you're just saying that he thinks he knows everything.

You might find it fun to look at this thesaurus entry for know-it-all.

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  • I've generally heard the term "know-it-all" in situations where the person's manner was unpleasant, but they were factually correct. If the person in question is actually just making things up, I personally wouldn't use this term.
    – DBS
    Jan 31, 2023 at 15:12
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    @dbs I would. People who act like they know everything rarely do. :)
    – BobRodes
    Jan 31, 2023 at 19:28
  • I've always heard "smart alec" as a less rude version of "smart ass." I wouldn't interpret it as having anything to do with someone acting like they know everything. I've heard it used more toward people who are being annoying in their attempts to show cleverness mostly (moreso than knowledge). Know-it-all, on the other hand, fits this situation perfectly.
    – Zwuwdz
    Feb 1, 2023 at 20:04
  • @Zwuwdz This is my take as well. I was bugging a kid in high school once in front of some other kids, and he said "My God, why have you forsaken me?" And I said "Maybe because you quit going to mass!" Which he had, without the knowledge of his parents. I thought it was an extremely clever remark, but I was being a smart alec. When at about the same age I would sit around with a smug look on my face "correcting" whatever anyone else said, I was a know-it-all. In any case, I was not everyone's favorite 15-year-old. :)
    – BobRodes
    Feb 2, 2023 at 6:32
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The word "know-all" is possibly what you need. See https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/know-all It is described as informal disapproving.

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    That's interesting. Sounds like a British expression; I've always heard "know-it-all." When I lived in England at age 14, I was often a "know-it-all," and kids would say "you fancy yourself, don't you?"
    – BobRodes
    Jan 30, 2023 at 12:03
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    @BobRodes as a Brit I'd have guessed "know-all" was an American expression because it's unfamiliar to me (I'd always go for "know-it-all"). Maybe it's dated (I grew up in the 90s/00s)
    – Tristan
    Jan 30, 2023 at 15:52
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    I've never heard this one in America.
    – Davislor
    Jan 30, 2023 at 19:08
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    "Know-it-all" is far more commonly used today than "know-all", based on my Google Ngram search. (I had to fiddle with the query a bit to stop it from interpreting hyphens as a special character.)
    – MJ713
    Jan 30, 2023 at 21:26
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    @MichaelHarvey if we are talking about German: "Besserwisser". Jan 31, 2023 at 11:34
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Smart-arse is an option. Please note that is derogatory and informal.

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    Smart-ass in America. Mildly profane here.
    – Davislor
    Jan 30, 2023 at 19:09
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    @Davislor as is the antonym dumbass. :)
    – BobRodes
    Feb 1, 2023 at 2:51
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    @BobRodes I wouldn’t call a dumbass the opposite of a smartass.
    – Davislor
    Feb 1, 2023 at 4:36
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    @Davislor When I was three, my five-year-old sister and I were eating breakfast. She stated "milk comes from cows." In a sudden eureka moment, I stood up and shouted "and orange juice comes from pigs!" All the adults in the room laughed, and now that I'm an adult, I know why. This logic is on similar lines, and with the intention of getting the adults in the room to laugh. (But NOOOO....)
    – BobRodes
    Feb 2, 2023 at 6:22
  • @BobRodes Guess I’m the dumbass.
    – Davislor
    Feb 2, 2023 at 11:21
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"Smart alec" is the perfect word for this situation. It means someone who is irritating for acting like they know everything. However, here are some more words that you may want to use.

Conceited - having an exaggerated opinion of oneself, one's merits, etc.; vain This can apply to their intelligence.

Arrogant - someone who is arrogant thinks they are better or more important than other people and behaves in a way that is rude and too confident

Cocky - very confident in an annoying way

Over-confident - (self-explanatory)

Wise-guy - a person who speaks and behaves as if they know more than others.

https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/
https://languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/

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    Also seen written as smart-alec, smart-aleck, smart-alick, both with and without hyphens, and with the given name capitalised. Some say the phrase "smart aleck/Aleck" is possibly derived from the name of Aleck (Alexander) Hoag, a 19th-century con man in New York. Jan 30, 2023 at 11:12
  • Downvoted because I do not agree that this is what smart-alec means at all. You typically hear that in the context of "don't be a smart alec" from one's parents when talking to them sarcastically. It really has nothing to do with talking down to someone or belittling them and everything to do with just being cheeky. OP sounds more like they're describing someone who mansplains. Feb 2, 2023 at 13:41
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In addition to the other excellent answers, you could call your cousin a "bloviator."

From Wikipedia

Bloviation is a style of empty, pompous, political speech that originated in Ohio and was used by US President Warren G. Harding, who described it as "the art of speaking for as long as the occasion warrants, and saying nothing". His opponent, William Gibbs McAdoo, compared it to "an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea."

Although bloviation implies political speech, it seems to me that in today's America, any conversation on a random topic can devolve into political speech. Listen to any social media influencer for a few minutes, and you might find that he or she has mastered the art of bloviating.

Bloviate / bloviator is not very commonly used, although it enjoyed a brief resurgence in political satire from 2017 - 2020 with reference to "Our Bloviator in Chief."

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2

How about a wisenheimer?

I am not sure where it comes from. Wissen means to know in German. Heimer maybe comes from Oppenheimer (a physicist).

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    from n-grams this seems to be extremely infrequently used (most of the examples here seem to be as a surname) and as a native (British) speaker I'd never heard it before and wouldn't know how to interpret it without clear context: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Tristan
    Jan 30, 2023 at 15:54
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    I have heard and read it on quite a few occasions. It was, I believe, rather more common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries than it has been in recent decades. I had not encountered it as a surname, but there seem to have been quite a few such uses. I am reasonably sure that three is no valid derivation from Oppenheimer the physicist, because it was in use too early for that to be possible. Jan 30, 2023 at 18:01
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    @DavidSiegel - Oppie was rather clever, though, and cruelly mistreated by those who had good cause to be grateful to him. Jan 31, 2023 at 11:44
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    @Michael Harvey quite true, which might make the suggested etymology seem plausible. But I am convinced it is not in fact accurate. One must be careful of plausible seeming word origins with no evidence beyond plausibility. Jan 31, 2023 at 17:02
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    @DavidSiegel - I meant no endorsement of the theory, which I think is rather implausible. I just wanted to say something about Oppenheimer, who I have always rather admired. Jan 31, 2023 at 18:47
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A few words come to mind that are insulting, but not 100% rude and vulgar, are:

  • blowhard: “a person who likes to talk about how important they are.” Example usage written by me, “When will this blowhard shut up!”
  • tool: “an insulting word for a person who you dislike very much or who behaves very stupidly.” Example usage written by me, “Who is this tool? Why are we listening to him?”
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  • Neither of these really addresses most of the points of this question, especially the 'talks as if he knows everything' aspect of it.
    – Glen Yates
    Jan 30, 2023 at 19:49
  • @GlenYates How? The original poster’s cousin sounds like a complete blowhard and a tool? I’m the U.S.A. if that matters. Jan 30, 2023 at 20:01
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    I don't see that 'blowhard' necessarily fits, he may talk 'like he knows everything' but OP doesn't say that he 'likes to talk about how important they are'. As to 'tool', yes, he sounds like a tool, but there are multiple ways one could be a tool, and I think OP was looking for a more specific word that describes how he is a tool, rather then just saying he is a tool. I think the better term is 'know-it-all' or if you want to be more derogatory 'smart-ass'.
    – Glen Yates
    Jan 30, 2023 at 20:12
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Another word is wiseacre. Merriam-Webster has

wiseacre
one who pretends to knowledge or cleverness

Macmillan has

wiseacre
someone who annoys you because they think that they know more about a particular thing than anyone else

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Supercilious; sort of synonymous to condescending.

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Another possibility is "smart aleck" Oxford Languages via Google give the definition as:

a person who is irritating because they behave as if they know everything. "I'm sick of all these smart alecks from the big city running the show"

Merriam-webster defines "Smart Aleck" as:

an obnoxiously conceited and self-assertive person with pretensions to smartness or cleverness

Cambridge gives:

someone who tries to appear smart or who answers questions in a funny way that annoys other people

Wikipedia gives:

A smart aleck, also spelled smart alek or smart alec, is someone whose sarcastic, wisecracking, or humorous manner is delivered in an offensive, obnoxious, or cocky way.

The literary figure Alexander Woollcott was once known as "the smartest of all the alecs" (The Treasury of Laughter)

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Nothing wrong with the answers I've seen so far, but you could also use pedant:

ped·ant /ˈped(ə)nt/ a person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules or with displaying academic learning. "the royal palace (some pedants would say the ex-royal palace)"

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"Know-it-all" is probably the best answer so far, but some more suggestions...

A Motormouth or a Waffler

Although "Waffler" carries the connotations that they don't know what they're talking about, even though they act as though they do. (alternatively, that what they are saying is long and boring)

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  • a motormouth just means they talk a lot never shutting up, but it can be about anything, my toddler was a motormouth, no idea what she was telling us, but it had to be said
    – WendyG
    Feb 1, 2023 at 17:34
  • And a waffler tends to flip back and forth between conflicting opinions. This doesn't imply intelligence or condescension so much as indecisiveness, or possibly pandering to different audiences by saying what they want to hear. Feb 1, 2023 at 20:34
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Another option might be "brainiac". The key difference between this and e.g. "know-it-all" is that a braniac may actually be very intelligent, whereas a know-it-all merely acts like they are. While often used in a positive sense, depending on the inflection it can still have a negative connotation, e.g. "Alright, what next, brainiac?" Note that Brainiac is also the name of a villain in DC comics, so be careful not to use it in a situation where that might cause some ambiguity. (e.g. Don't capitalize it unless you're talking about the character.)

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I think you need 2 words to fully convey your meaning, and the adjective "condescending" might fit the bill. I would go with condescending windbag or condescending know-it-all.

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Consider that you can also use terms that are not necessarily negative (for example, Brainiac or Renaissance Man ) in a sarcastic manner.

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A great, but obscure, word for this is ultracrepidarian.

Here is the Cambridge dictionary definition:

someone who has no special knowledge of a subject but who expresses an opinion about it

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