adjective su·per·cil·ious \ˌsü-pər-ˈsi-lē-əs, -ˈsil-yəs\

Definition of supercilious

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





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Examples of supercilious in a sentence

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. the supercilious art dealer rolled her eyes when we asked if she had anything for under $1,000

Did You Know?

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.

Origin and Etymology of supercilious

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

First Known Use: 1543

Synonym Discussion of 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.

SUPERCILIOUS Defined for English Language Learners


adjective su·per·cil·ious \ˌsü-pər-ˈsi-lē-əs, -ˈsil-yəs\

Definition of supercilious for English Language Learners

  • : 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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