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

Keep scrolling for more

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
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

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 His supercilious deadpan comments, lobbed like lazy grenades, are a wicked delight. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, "'The Boys in the Band': Theater Review," 1 June 2018 All the actors embrace this philosophy successfully, especially Pascal as a Shakespeare who’s not just supercilious but cruel and Grisetti, who makes naïve Nigel seem deeper than he’s written. Lawrence Toppman, charlotteobserver, "REVIEW: ‘Something Rotten!’ mixes Shakespeare, spoofs and inside jokes (careful: puns ahead) | Charlotte Observer," 9 May 2018 Life-size, the subject turns his head upward on his sinewy neck with a hooded gaze that seems mildly interested, slightly supercilious, and ripe with a thought that is an instant short of being spoken. Naomi Fry, The New Yorker, "“Like Life” Shows Seven Hundred Years of the Body," 24 Mar. 2018 Close your eyes and imagine the cartoon face of France: puffy eyelids; imperious beak; thin, supercilious lips; toque rising above like a Doric column. Brett Martin, GQ, "Lyon Is the Real Capital of French Food," 12 Mar. 2018 But the emotional gimmickry here gets too close to the supercilious Beasts of the Southern Wild, which was also produced by the Gottwald-Janvey team in a fit of class condescension about the impoverished blacks of Hurricane Katrina. Armond White, National Review, "Class Consciousness, French- and American-Style," 18 Aug. 2017 In fact the artist, Reginald Bunthorne (comically supercilious and preening F. Lawrence Ewing, alternating in the role with Chris Uzelac) is a fraud, his poetic persona a sham to attract women. Sam Hurwitt, The Mercury News, "Review: ‘Patience’ not Gilbert and Sullivan’s best, but still worthy," 10 Feb. 2017 Sanders, Hollywood’s suavest cad of the 1940s, typically delivered his lines with a silken, self-satisfied purr and was much appreciated by Sirk for his sense of supercilious irony. J. Hoberman, New York Times, "In “A Scandal in Paris,” Sanders," 13 Oct. 2016

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about supercilious

Listen to Our Podcast about supercilious

Statistics for supercilious

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for supercilious

The first known use of supercilious was in 1543

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for supercilious



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

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on supercilious

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for supercilious

Spanish Central: Translation of supercilious

Nglish: Translation of supercilious for Spanish Speakers

Comments on supercilious

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


appealing forcibly to the mind or reason

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Farm Idioms Quiz

  • cow coming home
  • What does 'poke' refer to in the expression 'pig in a poke'?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!