\ 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 smarmy (audio) \ adverb
smarminess \ ˈsmär-​mē-​nəs How to pronounce smarmy (audio) \ noun

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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 his odd reluctance to name Trump—and his insistence on adopting a kind of smarmy passive aggression—only underscores a larger problem: Even the handful of Republicans who do denounce Trump will only go so far. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 31 May 2021 Most kids’ animation is pap: conventions and tropes punched up with smarmy double entendre for the benefit of the adults who bought the tickets. Rumaan Alam, The New Yorker, 23 Apr. 2020 But at Tuesday's 2020 SOTU address, Pelosi once again made her contempt for the president and his speech widely known — this time, with more than a disapproving look or smarmy clap. Elly Belle,, 5 Feb. 2020 In its most recent iteration, Joel McHale hosted the program from 2004 to 2015, his bordering-on-smarmy attitude towards his subjects contributing to sometimes uncomfortable celebrity run-ins. Kathryn Lindsay,, 12 Feb. 2020 Their responses to widespread, serious criticism can be grandiose and smarmy. Gideon Lewis-kraus, Wired, 15 Jan. 2020 His presence here can be chalked up to the fact that Underwater was filmed almost three years ago, but that doesn’t make his penchant for agitated, smarmy line-readings any less exhausting. David Sims, The Atlantic, 9 Jan. 2020 Don Johnson plays her smarmy husband, Richard, while Michael Shannon plays youngest son Walt Thrombey, who has been running his father's publishing empire. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, 24 Nov. 2019 Watching a smarmy seducer gets his comeuppance is good unclean fun. Christopher Arnott,, 12 Nov. 2019

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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Cite this Entry

“Smarmy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for smarmy



English Language Learners Definition of smarmy

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


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