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I'm looking for a word or phrase to describe the condition of someone who is fairly certain he could do _______ if he were to set his mind to it, but who has absolutely no intention of ever doing so.

It's a sort of confidence that feeds on inexperience, which you get a lot of, for example, in the viewers of popular sporting events.

Possibly related to the Dunning–Kruger effect

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It's not a perfect fit, but armchair quarterback works well for some such people. –  Bradd Szonye May 13 '13 at 2:15
    
@BraddSzonye I thought that at first, but it appears that "armchair quarterback" is more like a "backseat driver" for sports: someone who not only thinks they could do better, but more importantly has specific opinions about the incorrectness of specific decisions that he makes known to those around him. –  tylerl May 13 '13 at 3:36
    
Correct, although armchair quarterback and backseat driver are both used metaphorically outside of sports and driving. –  Bradd Szonye May 13 '13 at 3:57

1 Answer 1

The character you describe sounds an awfully lot like a stock character in theatrical productions in ancient Greece, during the days of playwright Aristophanes . The character was called the alazon, the man who overstates his ability, as contrasted with the eiron, who understates his ability. (The etymology of the English word irony goes back to eiron.) See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stock_character.

A modern (and timeless, albeit dated) example of these two stock characters would be Sheriff Andy Taylor and his deputy Barney Fife from the television show "Mayberry R.F.D." If you watch an episode or two of this classic TV show, you'll be able to tell pretty quickly how the Barney Fife character (played by the late Don Knotts) fits the person you describe, almost to a T.

Deputy Fife was a harmless soul who was officious, legalistic, slightly boastful, overly confident (though timid at times), a bit vainglorious, and proud. At times he bordered on being deluded and lacking in sound judgment. He certainly meant well, of course, and had an endearing way about him, which caused people to like him and to put up with his shenanigans.

Perhaps one way Barney is different from the person you describe is in Barney's willingness to venture forth, usually half-cocked, determined to accomplish what he set out to do. Usually, however, he falls flat on his face, and good ol' "Ange" (as he frequently called his boss, Andy) would have to talk some sense into him and/or come to his rescue. Funny stuff. Not gut-busting, mind you, but good clean fun.

Alazon. I wish I had a more up-to-date English word or phrase for you, but I do not. Sorry.

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