adjective \ˈsmär-mē\

Definition of smarmy




  1. 1 :  revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, or false earnestness a tone of smarmy self-satisfaction — New Yorker

  2. 2 :  of low sleazy taste or quality smarmy eroticism


play \ˈsmär-mə-lē\ adverb


play \ˈsmär-mē-nəs\ noun

smarmy was our Word of the Day on 02/08/2015. Hear the podcast!

Examples of smarmy in a sentence

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

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."

Origin and Etymology of smarmy

smarm to gush, slobber

First Known Use: 1924

SMARMY Defined for English Language Learners


adjective \ˈsmär-mē\

Definition of smarmy for English Language Learners

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

Learn More about smarmy

Seen and Heard

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


feeling or affected by lethargy

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!

  • ludwig-richter-spring-has-arrived
  • Which is a synonym of upbraid?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.