How Can an Arse be Smart, Anyway?

“Well, actually, that is a blimp, not a zeppelin, because it has no rigid frame, you see.” Yes, I know. Insufferable. I have said that. I am a terrible smart-arse. Always have been, always will be. When somebody makes a tiny, inconsequential mistake like that, I just want to correct them. Nobody wants to be wrong, right?

“PIN! It’s just ‘PIN’! The N already stands for ‘number’. You don’t have to say PIN-number.” Well, turns out, even more than being wrong, people hate being corrected by an obnoxious, patronising, narrow-minded smart-arse. Which is why I have pledged to better myself and try to find the right way to be a smart-arse about things. I try to dispense facts in a non-patronising way. I try to judge the moment and whether the person I am talking to is saying something really important to them and in what mood they are. There are also other ways. Ever since learning about prescriptive and descriptive approaches to grammar, back at university, I have at least become way more relaxed when it comes to questions of grammar, semantics, syntax, and punctuation. Not the Oxford comma, though! Don’t mess with the Oxford comma!

“Yeah, well, we both know I am physically capable of going to the loo, so using ‘can’ to ask for permission instead of ‘may’ is perfectly fine, you know?” The worst aspect of my smart-arsery is probably not even the need to correct people but the unwillingness to be corrected in smart-arse matters myself. It is not about being right, it is about not being wrong. Which makes descriptive grammar come in so handy, to be honest. While it is more than just “Well, everybody does it, so it must be right” it can be used in that way to prove a point, only fancier. I take pride in not being outsmarted myself, hurting people’s feeling left and right because I practically call them stupid every time I do.

“Well, interestingly enough, SOS doesn’t really stand for ‘save our souls’” Because that is what being a smart-arse really is all about. Not about sharing interesting titbits but correcting people. Did you know, by the way, that the spelling of tidbit was indeed a conscious effort to clean up that dirty, ‘tit’-containing hussy of a word? Anyway, as I said, I do make a conscious effort not to be a smart-arse all the time, because being a a smart-arse in a non-patronising, sociable way only works so often, an my number-one go-to coping mechanism, humour, only works in very limited circumstances with a select few people (i.e. my mates). “You know, Blau” they will inevitably end up saying, “nobody likes a smart-arse.” to which I will without fail answer: “Well, actually…”. They all roll their eyes mockingly and we have a laugh and share a beer. The thing about not being a smart-arse is that it is incredibly difficult to pull off, because of the correcting aspect. I correct people because they make what I perceive as a mistake. They themselves obviously do not, or else they would not make that erroneous statement in the first place. So when I am being a smart-arse about it, they get the impression that I am a smart-arse and when I am not being a smart-arse they do not get any impression at all because they do not realise that I could have been a smart-arse but chose not to! How frustrating is that? I can’t even say something like “You know, I don’t want to be a smart-arse about it, but…” because we all know these kinds of buts and that everything preceding them does not count. “I am not a racist or anything, but…” Yeah, you know where this sentence is heading. It could just as well have said “I am about to say something incredibly racist, so brace yourselves.”

“He was certainly popularised by them, but he wasn’t really invented by Coca-Cola.” Knowing stuff is one of the very few things I am at least decently good at, so of course I want to show off every now and again. And I value knowledge very highly indeed, more so than popular opinions and catchy urban legends. And when popular opinion based on incorrect facts shapes political discourse it should bloody well be kept in check by vigorous smart-arsing at every turn.

“People in the middle-ages did not really believe the earth was flat” When it comes to some smart-arse facts, they should serve to challenge people’s preconceived notions about themselves and the world-view which they have comfortably settled into. And while this highfalutin’ excuse for being a smart-arse is just that, I do think it is right in principle, even though I concede that challenging preconceived notions is probably not best done with a smart-arsing one-liner; and telling someone a dolphin is a mammal, not a fish probably won’t exactly blow their mind. And even if it did, people rarely show gratitude for having their minds smart-arsed, anyway.

“Did you know Heroin was only invented as a non-addictive substitute for morphine by Bayer?” Being a smart-arse is probably like a not-too-bad vice, like an addiction to potato crisps. It should be enjoyed in moderation. And good company won’t hurt, either. And who knows, some people might actually be like to hear an interesting fact or two about some inane topic. Did you know that ‘factoid’ originally referred to things that seemed like facts but weren’t?


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