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Curmudgeon or Smart Aleck: Which Would You Rather Be?

Go to Grammar.com to decide whether you would rather be a "Curmudgeon" or a "Smart Aleck." Relax and enjoy!


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  Teri Lapping  —  Grammar Tips
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Would you rather be a “curmudgeon” or a “smart aleck”?  

Although these words are usually used in a negative context, they can both be given a positive slant, as well.  

In this article, we will discuss the word “curmudgeon” and the phrase “smart aleck,” highlighting the opposing aspects of their definitions. 


What is a Curmudgeon?

Most dictionaries are unclear about the origins of the word “curmudgeon.” The word may have derived from the Scottish Gaelic “carr” (meaning a turn or a twist) and the “muigean” (meaning a gloomy person.)

The word “curmudgeon” is a noun and describes a person who is gruff and cranky. 

It is the sour-faced neighbor who yells when our child’s ball rolls across his grassy lawn. It is the frowning man who does not answer the door at Halloween, even though all his lights are on. A “curmudgeon” is stereotypically older, and is usually male, although certain frowning spinsters and thin, bony-fingered aunts can also be “curmudgeons” as well.

As neighborhood members, "curmudgeons" will know every rule and regulation. They will notice the pranks of children, and they will often report any activities that are out of the ordinary, suspicious, or slightly unorthodox. As a tenant, they will notice every flaw. They are usually known by the police, who reluctantly follow up on their complaints. 

You can recognize "curmudgeons" by their individualized choice in music, in art, in movies, and in literary material. "Curmudgeons" will be the first to choose entertainment that has been rejected by others; their lifestyle is often unique but conservative. Intelligence is not necessarily characteristic. 

"Curmudgeons" can be found in almost every workplace. They do not like to be part of a group and they are not interested in cooperation. They do not respect power or hierarchy and are often quick to argue and disagree with their coworkers and superiors. 

On the other hand, "curmudgeons" can be valuable

they are often the employees who are willing to put their jobs in danger by pointing a finger at unjust treatment or confronting corruption. Stubborn and grouchy, they will say and do what others do not have the courage to say and do.

"Curmudgeons" are one of the stereotypical characters that round off the members of every storybook community; for example, typical characters in a town will include the busybody, the beautiful young girl, the handsome boy, the loyal friend, the wise advisor, the curmudgeon, and so on.  

Famous "curmudgeons" include Scrooge, Walter Matthau in the movie Grumpy Old Man, Winston Churchill, and others. 

Hidden under their crusty exteriors, we can see that “curmudgeons” can play a redeeming role in society. 

They usually form their own opinions, do not blindly accept the status quo, and do not automatically agree with the standardized way of living life. They are independent and do not take the popular route; in fact, "curmudgeons" will stubbornly make their own way, not caring if they create enemies and ill-will along their paths. As such, they remind others that there are alternative roads that can be taken.


What is a Smart Aleck?

The expression “smart aleck” (also smart alec, smart alek) is derived from the name of a real person, Aleck Hoag, who was a con man, a pimp, and a thief in New York City in the 19th century.
 
As an adjective, a “smart aleck” describes someone who is arrogant, sarcastic, full of themselves, overconfident, conceited, and cocky. 

For example, “The young man thought he was clever with his smart-aleck questions.”
 
As a noun, a “smart aleck” is a wise guy, a know-it-all, and a smarty pants. 

For example, “If you are such a smart aleck, then why didn’t you pass the test?”

A “smart aleck” can also mean someone who is obnoxious, sometimes even mean; a “smart aleck” can be humorous but in a rude, insolent, or offensive way.
 
On the other hand, “smart alecks” do have their useful sides. 

They will sometimes use humor to make the covert visible; a “smart aleck” can be the catalyst for a straight-forward discussion, when friends or colleagues respond reflexively but honestly to their smart aleck remarks. 


Final Thoughts

Both “curmudgeon” and “smart aleck” are words that describe a type of personality. They describe characteristics that, at times, each one of us might possess. 

Do you know a "curmudgeon" or a "smart aleck"?

Even the most optimistic of us might wake up in the morning, grumpy and negative, suddenly a “curmudgeon,” blackly looking at our coffee as we contemplate the challenges of our upcoming day. 

Other days, we may find ourselves throwing a sarcastic comment into the conversation, suddenly a “smart aleck,” trying to be funny and just a bit caustic with our humor. 

Which would you rather be, a “curmudgeon” or a “smart aleck”?

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