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Smarty pants

Posted by Smokey Stover on January 18, 2010 at 02:16

In Reply to: Smarty pants posted by Jason on January 15, 2010 at 10:39:

: I have always wondered the origin of many of the sayings that my mother used on me as a kid, and tonight I actually used one...

: "Smarty pants"

: Where did this saying come from? Why are the pants in question in the origin of this saying 'smart'? Who was being called a "smarty pants"?

THe word smarty has been used since at least the middle of the 19th century to put down some who was too smart for their own good. The OED decribes smarty-boots and smarty-pants as originating in the U.S. Their first citation of the latter is by Budd Schulberg in 1941, but it was well established by that time. The pants are almost irrelevant, except perhaps to give the tone of talking down to a juvenile. The OED defines these expressions thus: "smarty-boots, (orig. U.S.) -pants colloq., an overly clever person, a know-all, a smart alec. . . ."

I'm sure we could find other expressions with pants as a sort of suffix or extension, e.g., fancy-pants. I can't add to the list, but I don't imagine there's any hidden meaning in, say, Liar, liar, pants on fire.