Albert Einstein Portrait Theoretician Physician

Identifying a Pseudo-Intellectual: The full guide

The comprehensive criteria facilitating the identification of pseudo-know-it-alls and fake intellectuals

Many of us have been exposed to this kind of people who makes us wonder if they are wearing their “I am a pseudo-intellectual smart-ass” hat or if they know what they are talking about.

I am a good person, so I try to give them the benefit of the doubt most of the times. It takes a lot of effort not to jump to the negative verdict, but it is worth trying.

But how do you establish if someone belongs in the first category or the second one?

Well, there are some indicators which can illuminate the situation.

1) “I know my shit” or Appeal to (False) Authority

They will try to tip the table by pretending to be an authority on the subject. Statements such as “I know my shit” or “When I was in [fill the blanks] we used to do this or that” have as a scope to inflate their authority -and ego- in the discussed subject. In a variety of occasions were the other discussants do not know the exact credentials of that person, or they do not possess themselves the authority or the knowledge, then the smart-ass wins.

However, the truth is, the frequency with which the smart-ass states their credentials is enough to make you suspicious of the validity of the credentials.

2) Dubious use of Questions

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A person’s attitude to questions can be used as a proxy for their smart-assery. Someone who does not admit that they do not know something or who are not giving a proper reply but they still pretend to be in 100% control of the situation can be seen as fishy. Also, pseudo-know-it-alls are masters of question-posing. They will reply to a probing question with an abstract question, or they will try to appear superior to the rest of the discussants by asking questions that cannot be answered.

A good example might be a person who asks “Are we thinking big enough?” in a brainstorming session without adding anything to the discussion.

3) Smokescreen and mirrors

The smart-ass has always available a set of “intelligent sounding” quotes and citations. They use them as cover to make their points understood and to appear superior and knowledgeable. They casually cite Marx and Socrates, and they use quotes from Jean-Paul Sartre and Kafka to reinforce their argument. The citation acts as a smokescreen which will conceal the logical and conceptual imperfections.

The more citations a person uses, the more probable it is that they are trying to commit smart-assery.

4) Road Closed — Detour

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The smart-asses are capitalizing in their sophistication in a few specific bodies of knowledge. They will try to change the subject to a topic that they feel comfortable to talk about and to give a 45-minute university lecture or they will use metaphors and segues that opens the discussion to a subject they are very knowledgeable.

Try to follow the discussion closely and to see if the suspicious person is trying to change it to a topic that they would feel most comfortable to discuss. If they do, you have a smart-ass in front of you.

All those indications can be used isolated or in combination to identify a possible smart-ass.

After the verdict is drawn, you are responsible to deflate the smart-ass and to make them understand that you are not affected by their ways.


Originally posted at Thanos Antoniou — The voice inside my head

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