\ ˈsmär-mē How to pronounce smarmy (audio) \
smarmier; smarmiest

Definition of smarmy

1 : revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, or false earnestness a tone of smarmy self-satisfactionNew Yorker
2 : of low sleazy taste or quality smarmy eroticism

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Other Words from smarmy

smarmily \ ˈsmär-​mə-​lē How to pronounce smarmily (audio) \ adverb
smarminess \ ˈsmär-​mē-​nəs How to pronounce smarminess (audio) \ noun

Did You Know?

Something smarmy will often ooze with self-satisfaction and insincerity. Much like its synonyms unctuous and slick, smarmy has a history that starts with a meaning of literal slipperiness or oiliness. The verb smarm appeared in English in the mid-19th century. Etymologists don't know where it came from, but they do know that it meant "to smear," "to gush," or sometimes "to make smooth or oily." A few decades later, the use of smarm was extended to sometimes mean "to use flattery." The adjective smarmy appeared in the early 20th century. At first meaning "insincerely flattering" or "smug," it later took on an additional meaning: "sleazy."

Examples of smarmy in a Sentence

Yes, he's a smarmy know-it-all with the personality of a hall monitor, the kind of guy everyone hides from at a Christmas party. — Bill Simmons, ESPN, 2 Aug. 2004 Perhaps not—but Zarrella's absence is giving prime-time exposure to Channel 9 sports backups Drew Soicher, Carol Maloney and Rod Mackey, any of whom is preferable to the main man, whose on-air presence has grown smarmier with each passing year. — Michael Roberts, Denver Westword, 15 Mar. 2001 Norman's attempt at setting the Holly story straight is a well-researched volume in which Holly comes across as a talented, fun-loving guy who carried the torch for a high-school sweetheart with strong religious convictions; who blindly signed over much of his future income to Norman Perry, his smarmy producer and manager; and who endured grueling concert tours of the U.S. and Britain. — Genevieve Stuttaford, Publishers Weekly, 12 Aug.1996
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Recent Examples on the Web

But the Mind Flayer could just as easily be lurking within the smarmy new mayor or the creepy police officer who seems to be tracking Hopper—or maybe even Hopper himself. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "New Stranger Things S3 trailer teases: What if the Mind Flayer never left?," 21 June 2019 Robert Mitchum follows as the smarmy billionaire bachelor who treats the isle of Manhattan as his business headquarters. Lilah Ramzi, Vogue, "An Ode to the Campiest Film You’ve Probably Never Seen," 19 Apr. 2019 Part of what killed the romantic comedy in the mid-’00s was that the biggest studio rom-coms, your How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days or your Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, were getting increasingly slick and smarmy and cynical. Alissa Wilkinson, Vox, "Why romantic comedies matter," 29 Aug. 2018 For instance, the media calls me smarmy, sarcastic, all kinds of awful things. Fox News, "Kavanaugh accused: Where does the burden of proof lie?," 19 Sep. 2018 Whether or not the characterization was ever fair, the Bluetooth headset was the accoutrement of smarmy business men talking loud on the phone in inappropriate places. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, "Apple's Airpods Are an Omen," 12 June 2018 Both are veterans of the talk-show circuit, but Short has clearly mastered the form, appearing on David Letterman’s show more than 30 times, always full of old-school insults, showbiz stories and a put-on, smarmy charm. Nicole Brodeur, The Seattle Times, "Steve Martin and Martin Short come to Seattle for ‘An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life’," 1 July 2018 While Fred gives him a smarmy line about fake news, Serena catches sight of Luke’s banner—a picture of him with June and Hannah—and seems shaken. Emma Dibdin, Harper's BAZAAR, "The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 9: Luke and Nick Just Met and I Cannot Deal," 13 June 2018 Plaza insisted that Lenny's original, somewhat gendered dialogue—smarmy, crass, with a barstool intellectual's love of old-timey vocab—be kept in tact. Nojan Aminosharei, Marie Claire, "Aubrey Plaza Was Never April Ludgate," 13 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'smarmy.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of smarmy

1924, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for smarmy

smarm to gush, slobber

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Dictionary Entries near smarmy







smart aleck

Statistics for smarmy

Last Updated

10 Jul 2019

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Time Traveler for smarmy

The first known use of smarmy was in 1924

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More Definitions for smarmy



English Language Learners Definition of smarmy

informal + disapproving : behaving in a way that seems polite, kind, or pleasing but is not genuine or believable

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Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with smarmy

Comments on smarmy

What made you want to look up smarmy? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to form ideas or theories about something

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