Wednesday, April 24, 2013

smart aleck

"Someone whose sarcastic, wisecracking, or humorous manner is delivered in an offensive, obnoxious, or cocky way" (Wiktionary).

It possibly originated from 1840s New York thief, Aleck Hoag, per research by Gerald Cohen, who has published a number of books about the etymology of various slangs and terms.

I found a "listserv" e-mail from Cohen describing Hoag's grift, which Cohen collected from newspaper articles from Hoag's time, noting, "but conclusive proof has thus far been elusive" as to whether Hoag was the source of the term.

World Wide Words also has a nice summary of Hoag's life of crime; World Wide Words cites Cohen's Studies in Slang, Part 1 (1985) as his source (the book appears to be out of print; I looked around for it).

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