Smart Alec

Also: Smart aleck

Meaning of Idiom ‘Smart Alec’

A smart alec is a conceited person who irritates others by always trying to be clever, sarcastic, etc.; a person who insists on showing off their knowledge in a way that is annoying. 1Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.,2McCarthy, Michael. Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms. Cambridge University Press, 2002

Usage

Americans often pronounce ‘Alec’ in this idiom as eh-lick, with a short e sound. It is also pronounced as ah-lick. (See origin).

Examples of Use

“Tommy was often scolded by his teacher for being a smart Alec but his teacher soon realized he was actually very gifted.”

“You are such a smart Alec!” said Ronald’s sister.

“I’m tired of your smart Alec responses to everything I say,” said mom. “If you don’t start showing some respect, you’re going to lose your privileges.”

Origin

This idiom has been used since at least the late 1800s. The American Dictionary and Cyclopedia, of 1896, defines smart alec as “a pretended wiseacre; a stupid fool who imagines he is smart.”

‘Alec,’ in this expression is the proper-name Alec, a shortened form of Alexander. Why this particular name should be used to allude to a wisecracking, sarcastic, and conceited person is unknown.

More Idioms Starting with S

More Proper Name Idioms

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Sources   [ + ]

1. Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.
2. McCarthy, Michael. Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms. Cambridge University Press, 2002