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My local dictionary supplies this definition:

having or showing an excessive pride in oneself or one's achievements

I was recently told by someone that, "It is only 'smug' if it isn't literally true."

We had a lengthy argument but the dictionary definition above didn't clear it up for us since it doesn't talk about correctness. Can someone say something correct or literally true but still be smug about it?

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Please cite the dictionary entry. Compare with other online resources. Please do some background research! –  Kris Jan 18 at 6:12
    
Sorry, your friend has a point, though is not quite right. I am not not posting an answer -- I'm smug about it. –  Kris Jan 18 at 6:18
    
Sadly, it won't be challenged, neither in Syria nor abroad — the regime knows this now with certainty and can afford to be smug about its ...; As a cognitive scientist I can afford to be smug about common sense being true (thought is different from language) and linguistic determinism being a ... –  Kris Jan 18 at 6:22
    
@Kris: It was just the local dictionary I grabbed to look up the word. None of the other dictionaries I checked answers this question. I don't understand what you wanted me to do. –  MrHen Jan 18 at 19:28

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Smug is an attitude; correctness has nothing to do with it:

"the smug look of a toad breakfasting on fat marsh flies” ( William Pearson)

AHED's definition, which mentions nothing of correctness:

smug, adj.: Exhibiting or feeling great or offensive satisfaction with oneself or with one's situation; self-righteously complacent

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self-righteous does have that "correctness" character in it. –  Kris Jan 18 at 6:15

Your dictionary is correct. Your friend isn't. You should smugly show him the dictionary.

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Actually, he showed me the dictionary and said it was obvious that he was correct. –  MrHen Jan 2 '12 at 16:08
    
Sometimes we could be mistaken in our inferences. Check more dictionary entries and usage examples. –  Kris Jan 18 at 6:17

I would say that the definition proves you are right, since otherwise it would read something like "having or showing an excessive pride in oneself or one's fictional achievements".

Other definitions don't even mention achievements: "Exhibiting or feeling great or offensive satisfaction with oneself or with one's situation; self-righteously complacent."

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Smug not only does not imply the falsity of what is boasted about but also implies its truth; otherwise there is nothing to boast about in the first place.

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I think people can be mistakingly smug if they think they are correct about something. –  MrHen Jan 2 '12 at 16:07
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I think this is a fine point of usage that dictionaries are unlikely to cover, but broadly speaking I'd expect the vast majority of cases where someone is called smug are in contexts where that person is in fact correct. If you can't win the actual argument (because he's right), you can at least denigrate something about him, to avoid feeling totally crushed. –  FumbleFingers Jan 2 '12 at 17:52
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@MrHen: I'm sure that was a typo, but even "mistakenly smug" gets only two hits in Google Books - and one of them implies it's an odd thing to write, because it puts "mistakenly" in brackets. –  FumbleFingers Jan 2 '12 at 22:44

Of course. I feel smug every time I've been to the gym, and it's literally true that I've been there.

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I feel crestfallen. My next-door neighbour actually runs a gym, but he's never offered me even one free session there. Feasibly because he doesn't think I need it, but most likely he just thinks I'm a hopeless case, –  FumbleFingers Jan 2 '12 at 17:56
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@FumbleFingers you make me laugh... –  Mahnax Jan 2 '12 at 18:45
    
@Mahnax: ty. If someone asks for the antonym of "smug" and I manage to get in first with "crestfallen" I shall look to you for the upvote! :) –  FumbleFingers Jan 2 '12 at 18:53
    
@FumbleFingers Oh, the upvote will come if that happens! –  Mahnax Jan 2 '12 at 19:54
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You two get a room. –  ThePopMachine Jan 2 '12 at 22:52

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