su·​per·​cil·​ious | \ ˌsü-pər-ˈsi-lē-əs How to pronounce supercilious (audio) , -ˈsil-yəs \

Definition of supercilious

: coolly and patronizingly haughty reacted to their breach of etiquette with a supercilious smile

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Other Words from supercilious

superciliously adverb
superciliousness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for supercilious

proud, arrogant, haughty, lordly, insolent, overbearing, supercilious, disdainful mean showing scorn for inferiors. proud may suggest an assumed superiority or loftiness. too proud to take charity arrogant implies a claiming for oneself of more consideration or importance than is warranted. a conceited and arrogant executive haughty suggests a consciousness of superior birth or position. a haughty aristocrat lordly implies pomposity or an arrogant display of power. a lordly condescension insolent implies contemptuous haughtiness. ignored by an insolent waiter overbearing suggests a tyrannical manner or an intolerable insolence. an overbearing supervisor supercilious implies a cool, patronizing haughtiness. an aloof and supercilious manner disdainful suggests a more active and openly scornful superciliousness. disdainful of their social inferiors

What is the origin of supercilious?

Arrogant and disdainful types tend to raise an eyebrow at anything they consider beneath them. The original supercilious crowd must have shown that raised-eyebrow look often, because the adjective supercilious derives from "supercilium," Latin for eyebrow. (We plucked our adjective and its meaning from the Latin adjective superciliosus.) "Supercilious" has been used to describe the censoriously overbearing since the late 1600s, but there was a time in the 1700s when it was also used as a synonym of another "supercilium" descendent, "superciliary" ("of, relating to, or adjoining the eyebrow"). Although the eyebrow sense of "supercilious" is now obsolete, it does help explain what ornithologist John Latham meant in 1782 when he described a "Supercilious K[ingfisher]" with a narrow orange stripe over its eyes.

Examples of supercilious in a Sentence

While Americans did congregate together at baseball games, … amusement parks, dance halls and arcades, tensions still roiled. The middle class may not have been as supercilious as the elites it replaced, but middle-class reformers were every bit as strident as those elites in condemning … working-class entertainments, and for the same reason: These entertainments constituted a challenge to the class's social control. — Neal Gabler, Life: The Movie, 1998 Cross' popular academic sleuth Kate Fansler returns, this time as a guest professor at the down-at-the-heels Schuyler Law School, where she has been asked to teach a course on literature and the law. Ardent feminist Kate soon finds that not only is Schuyler a bastion of intolerant, supercilious white males, but worse, any attempt by women or minorities to be heard is quickly quashed by the old-boy network. — Emily Melton, Booklist, 15 Dec. 1994 Jorgeson had a sharp tongue and was so supercilious in his remarks that I didn't know quite how seriously I should take this talk, but I enjoyed his humor and I did believe he had the sensibilities of an artist. — Thom Jones, New Yorker, 2 Dec. 1991 the supercilious art dealer rolled her eyes when we asked if she had anything for under $1,000
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Recent Examples on the Web This always induces some supercilious snickering among foreigners. Gerard Baker, WSJ, "To Understand America, Look to Its College Sports," 17 Jan. 2020 Service is immaculate, but friendly and never supercilious. Tribune News Service, cleveland, "Exploring Cincinnati’s culinary scene," 1 Dec. 2019 Each feral snort and supercilious leer, each vaulted syllable of his chewy mitteleuropäisch accent, and each tremor of his predatory gestures plays to the intense concentration of Merhige’s pressing close-ups. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, "What to Stream This Weekend: Willem Dafoe in “Shadow of the Vampire”," 18 Oct. 2019 Young, the Atlanta Hawks’ supercilious second-year guard, stopped and popped a few feet in front of the baseline, launching an off-balance, rainbow swish just inside the arc that pushed the visitors’ lead to 92-80. Sean Keeler, The Denver Post, "Monte Morris: Nuggets “just weren’t there” vs. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks," 13 Nov. 2019 Scorsese’s supercilious sentiments are the kind of thing that makes movie critics side-eye superhero films and dismiss them as junk food., "Come get your uncle, Hollywood.," 9 Oct. 2019 Co-created by two of Murphy’s most trusted collaborators (Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan), the series is a deeply cynical and unfortunately supercilious restating of an old Washington cliche, that politics is really just high school and vice versa. Hank Stuever, Washington Post, "Ryan Murphy’s ‘The Politician’ is cool and cynical — and difficult to fully endorse," 25 Sep. 2019 And why was there no internal pushback at a supercilious leadership that demonstrably had gone rogue? Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, "The FBI Tragedy: Elites above the Law," 11 June 2019 There’s also a smoothly supercilious, white supremacist (a striking performance by Dallas Roberts) and references to an organization with a title evocative of a current battle cry: Make America Great Again. Dorothy Rabinowitz, WSJ, "‘FBI’ Review: Agents of the Moment," 20 Sep. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'supercilious.' 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 supercilious

1543, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for supercilious

Latin superciliosus, from supercilium eyebrow, haughtiness, from super- + -cilium eyelid (akin to celare to hide) — more at hell

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The first known use of supercilious was in 1543

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Cite this Entry

“Supercilious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for supercilious


How to pronounce supercilious (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of supercilious

formal + disapproving : having or showing the proud and unpleasant attitude of people who think that they are better or more important than other people

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Spanish Central: Translation of supercilious

Nglish: Translation of supercilious for Spanish Speakers

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