adjective \ ˈsmär-mē \
|Updated on: 24 Jul 2018

Definition of smarmy

smarmier; smarmiest
1 : revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, or false earnestness
  • a tone of smarmy self-satisfaction
  • New Yorker
2 : of low sleazy taste or quality
  • smarmy eroticism


play \ˈsmär-mə-lē\ adverb


play \ˈsmär-mē-nəs\ noun

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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 SimmonsESPN2 Aug. 2004
  2. 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 RobertsDenver Westword15 Mar. 2001
  3. 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 StuttafordPublishers Weekly12 Aug.1996

Recent Examples of smarmy from the Web

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.

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

SMARMY Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of smarmy for English Language Learners

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

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a lighting electrician on a movie set

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