General Question

warpling's avatar

What is the origin of the term "smart alec?"?

Asked by warpling (849points) January 20th, 2009

I found the answer, but found it interesting and worth posting

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22 Answers

asmonet's avatar

Alec Baldwin.

gailcalled's avatar

@Warpling, If you know the answer, that means we can find it easily on the appropriate sites. Not the point of fluther.

Knotmyday's avatar

The first short-circuit Fluther. Not exactly a highlight, but a milestone all the same. :^P

warpling's avatar

@gailcalled I do understand. I asked myself the question earlier in the day driving. I figured I would ask the fluther community later, assuming a google search would not suffice. When I got home I googled it and low and behold there was a wiki article. I figured the fluther community would be interested to know the answer!

SeventhSense's avatar

Who’s asking?

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

Canada. Canada is the origin of Alec Trebek.

scamp's avatar

@warpling , You Fluther while you drive?

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

According to G.L. Cohen, author of Studies in Slang Part 1 (1985), the phrase smart alec(k) arose from the exploits of one Alec Hoag. A celebrated pimp, thief, and confidence man operating out of New York City in the 1840’s, Mr. Hoag, along with his wife Melinda and an accomplice known as “French Jack,” operated a con called the “panel game,” a method by which prostitutes and their pimps robbed foolish customers. See

A search of several of the more reliable dictionaries pretty much confirms this definition. The Oxford English Dictionary traces it to mid-1860s slang, while the American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed., 2000) and Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (16th ed., 1999) tentatively trace the etymology of the phrase to Hoag.

The “panel game” consisted of sliding walls that would enable Mr. Hoag to sneak in whilst the mark was sleeping and steal valuables. Before Mr. Hoag, a prostitute’s accomplices would wait until the mark was asleep, then burst into the room. But the marks got wise and would block the door with a table or chair propped up under the doorknob, thinking they would then be safe from intruders. “Smart” Alec Hoag, because he never woke the victim, would be on the other side of town before the rube even knew what had happened.

~ From The Straight Dope:

Strauss's avatar

OK, wise guy…I’d rather be thought of as a smart ass aleck than a dumb aleck ass.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Ah, yes. My pedantic period. We are many people in one lifetime, grasshopper.

gailcalled's avatar

^^—But look what you have learned in 2/12 years, O spirit of the crow.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Vous êtes trop gentil, Madame.

gailcalled's avatar

Since you mentioned pedantic first, should I tell you it’s _vous êtes trop gentille, madame? However, props for the circumflex.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Merci. J’ai oomlauts ainsi, mais ce serait une autre langue, une autre fois… mon cher.

…and that is the extent of which I am willing to risk embarrassment in this language. It will soon become obvious that I rely too much on google translator.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

gentille = feminine adjective form?

gailcalled's avatar

Oui. Mon prof est gentil; ma prof est gentille.

Mon cher et ma chère.

Am I allowed to laugh at oomlauts? Please say yes because I am. (umlaut)

Strauss's avatar

Nobody ever gave my props for my circum… Oh, never mind!

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Of course. J’ai appris quelque chose et vous avez ri. Mais je me sens dupé car je ne peux pas entendre le son de votre rire, ma chère.

gailcalled's avatar

C’est le son du tintement des cloches d’argent

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Je m’attendais à rien de moins.

Strauss's avatar

Souhaitez-deux de vous une chambre?

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