\ 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 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,, "New Host Jade Catta-Preta Is Saving The Soup From Its “Snarky Bro’s Club” Rep," 12 Feb. 2020 Their responses to widespread, serious criticism can be grandiose and smarmy. Gideon Lewis-kraus, Wired, "Bad Algorithms Didn't Break Democracy," 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, "Underwater Entertains but Doesn’t Have Much Depth," 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, "Review: Twists upon twists in Knives Out will keep you guessing ’til the end," 24 Nov. 2019 Watching a smarmy seducer gets his comeuppance is good unclean fun. Christopher Arnott,, "Review: ’Don Juan’ a cool, cruel comedy at Westport Playhouse," 12 Nov. 2019 Roxanne is in attendance with her smarmy suitor, the Duke de Guiche (Ritchie Coster), and anxious chaperone Marie (Grace McLean), who frets that rejection of the nobleman will ruin them. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Cyrano': Theater Review," 8 Nov. 2019 With his latest role as Howard Ratner, a smarmy New York City diamond dealer/gambling addict in Josh and Ben Safdie's Uncut Gems, Sandler once again seems to have a shot at Oscar gold (or at least a nomination). Paula Bernstein, Fortune, "Will Adam Sandler Finally Get an Oscar Nomination?," 3 Oct. 2019 They'll be taught to reveal, not conceal, their honest feelings, to distrust smarmy men, to like a guy with a reindeer for a friend, to learn that leadership requires thoughtful introspection. Chris Jones,, "Disney's 'Frozen' opens on Broadway with a warm sister bond — and Elsa gives her all with 'Let it Go'," 23 Mar. 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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Time Traveler for smarmy

Time Traveler

The first known use of smarmy was in 1924

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Last Updated

20 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Smarmy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Feb. 2020.

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How to pronounce smarmy (audio)

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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