I happened to find the origin of the word, ‘smart alec (aleck / alick)’ as I was checking the spelling of the word in a dictionary.

Merriam Webster English Dictionary defines ‘smart alec (aleck / alick)’ as:

An obnoxiously conceited and self-assertive person with pretensions to smartness or cleverness.

And its origin as;

Aleck, nickname for Alexander

First Known Use: 1865.

Now that knowing ‘smart alec’ being a shortened form of ‘smart Alexander,’ I became a bit ill at ease, because I’ve used the word for both sex thus far without any reflection on its origin and gender.

Is there a female counterpart to smart alec? Is it alright to use ‘smart alec (aleck / alick)’ as usual for both a man and a woman?

  • In AmE, it's almost always 'smart aleck' (two words, lower case, '-ck'). There is no conscious connection to the name Alex or Alec, unless of course that is your own name and then it will be annoying. – Mitch Jun 13 '13 at 0:29
  • There is a very nice name 'Alexandra' that you can remember while using the gender-neutral term 'smart alec' for a woman. Certain literary characters with that name were apparently strong and dominating women, tomboys and smart alecks, though I can't remember the details. – English Student May 19 '17 at 5:53
  • @Mitch I think the level of association between smart-alec and the name will vary greatly. To me personally, it's a very obvious connection that I've always been aware of (like billy-no-friends in Rory’s answer). I've always seen it as simply a name used in a generic fashion. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 19 '17 at 9:22

Yes, it can be used for either gender. A Smart Alec is a neutral noun - there is no gender attached or implied.

Additionally, as @TrevorD commented, Alec, Alex, and other similar contractions are used for female names as well as for male names.

Similarly, while the root of 'Billy No-Mates' is male, it can be used to describe an unpopular man or woman.

  • Good point Trevor – Rory Alsop Jun 12 '13 at 12:12

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