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I used to know this word but cannot remember it.

Basically it’s someone who likes the prospect of being knowledgeable about many things, or at least wants the appearance of erudition, but who is unwilling to put in the time and effort to learn new things.

He may put in just enough effort to learn some trivia to impress others.

And pretentious isn’t the word I was thinking of.

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These days, "Googler" is enough to define that concept. –  Robusto Jul 12 '14 at 15:28
@tchrist - I am curious why you edited "who is" in the question title to "who's". Is it the site policy to use the shortened form in the question titles? Or isn't it rather your personal preference only? In that case you shouldn't have edited it in this way. I haven't found anything which would support such an edit in english.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/edit. Or maybe I am wrong and in the contemporary English it is already considered an error to use the full form of "is"? –  Honza Zidek Jul 13 '14 at 9:59
Not a single word, but there is an idiom that means basically just this: jack of all trades, master of none (the second half of it can be left out and is still understood). –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 13 '14 at 11:39
I was trying to make the title shorter. Might as well delete who’s altogether. –  tchrist Jul 13 '14 at 11:39
@tchrist - motivation for deleting who is altogether would be more understandable :) Go on, do it! :D –  Honza Zidek Jul 13 '14 at 12:50

9 Answers 9

Perhaps dilettante or dilettantish conveys what you describe.

According to Merriam-Webster Online dictionary:

a person whose interest in an art or in an area of knowledge is not very deep or serious.

Plural: dil·et·tantes or dil·et·tan·ti

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That's the first word I thought of as well. The only point I would argue is that dilettante doesn't imply anything about the motivations of the person to whom it is applied. A dilettante could genuinely enjoy and appreciate the thing they study superficially, but they are happy with a surface level understanding. –  Jason M Jul 13 '14 at 3:10

Per Collins English Dictionary:

sciolist — (rare) a person who gives their opinion on subjects of which they have only superficial knowledge

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I would describe this person as a know-it-all. The central definition of that term is slightly different ...

know-it-all n. One who claims to know everything and rejects advice or information from others.

... being more about the refusing to listen to other people on topics where they are actually more expert, but it can certainly be used to describe someone who likes to show off their superficial knowledge of many subjects, and I think it will be more readily understood than some of the other suggestions. In particular, dilettante is more often used to describe someone who has a superficial knowledge of one or two specific subjects, and the other suggested words are quite rare.

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But a know-it-all might actually know quite a bit about many things. The arrogant eagerness to share that information and correct others is what makes them a "know-it-all." –  fredsbend Jul 13 '14 at 5:55

I can imagine use cases where shallow would work in the meaning you're asking for:

shallow, adj

lacking depth of intellect or knowledge; concerned only with what is obvious

Source: English Wordnet

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+1. "Dilettante" is the most accurate word but I would use "intellectually shallow" for more informal contexts. –  seismatica Jul 13 '14 at 6:33

The first word that came to my mind was poseur, for the cases where the appearance is more important than the underlying substance.

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You may have been thinking of a smatterer in some topic.

Of smatterer the OED says:

One who has only a slight or superficial knowledge of (now rare) or in a matter; a dabbler. Also used without const.

For which two of the numerous citations given are this pair separated in time by a couple of centuries:

  • A. 1680 Butler Rem. (1759) I. 213
    As Smatterers prove more arrogant and pert, The less they truly understand an Art.

  • 1893 Jessopp Stud. Recluse Pref. p. ix,
    A clergyman with a cure of souls··must give up all hopes of being anything but a smatterer in science.

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generalist: a person whose knowledge, aptitudes, and skills are applied to a field as a whole or to a variety of different fields (opposed to specialist).

… but the term is generally (!) not used in such a pejorative manner.

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The first thing that came into my mind was:



showing smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one's achievements:

you can't afford to be complacent about security.

smug is also listed as a synonym (I thought that might be what you were looking for as you mentioned that 'pretentious' was not the word you were looking for).

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How about wiseacre?

According to Google:

a person with an affectation of wisdom or knowledge, regarded with scorn or irritation by others; a know-all

Sciolist fits your need best, except that I have never come across the word before. Why, even the spell-check in this text box flags it as a spelling error!

Even wiseacre is rare, for that matter. I found it in some Gurdjieff book.

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I’m afraid that “According to Google” doesn’t really work as a citation. Different people get different answers, there’s (often) no actual source named, and it is subject to change without notice. –  tchrist Jul 12 '14 at 16:42

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