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Smart Alec

Posted by James Briggs on May 09, 2002

We've had a discussion on this topic before. However, there a new Q&A section in The Times where people post questions about all sorts of things, including the origin of sayings and idioms. Today, 9th May, there was an offering about Smart Alec - details of which don't seem to have been posted in our past discussion. Here's the Times section:

The phrase "Smart Alec", meaning a conceited know-it-all, dates back to mid-19th century America. Regarding the identity of "Alec", most American dictionaries point to Alec Hoag, a notorious pimp and thief who operated in New York in the 1840s. He operated a trick called "The Panel Game" where he would sneak in via gaps in the walls and steal the valuables of his sleeping or unwary clients. The reputation he generated for not getting caught earned him the nickname Smart Alec.
Dom Pleasance, Sandy, Bedfordshire