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Smart Alec

Posted by ESC on May 09, 2002

In Reply to: 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

Just so we'll have all the information in one spot, here's what I found previously about Smart Alec:

SMART ALECK - "If there ever lived a real 'smart Aleck,' an Alexander so much of an obnoxiously conceited know-it-all that his name became proverbial, no record of him exists. The term can be traced back to about the 1860s and is still frequently used for a wise guy today. The original 'smart aleck' may have been at least clever enough to cover up all traces of his identity." From Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997). ".Its first recorded appearance in print was in a Carson City, Nevada, newspaper in 1862. But history doesn't record who the first 'smart alec' was. Many years later there was a prodigiously vain figure on the New York literary scene called Alec - Alexander Woollcott - but the expression 'smart alec' was well established long before his time." From Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988).

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