Taken from here

As early as the opening line - "Jack Torrance thought, officious little prick." - Torrance comes across as adversarial. He is a damaged man whose deep flaws have damaged others. A recovering alcoholic, Jack is given to fits of temper and rage; addiction seems to be less a cause than a symptom of his deeper character issues. Once, when his son Danny spilled a can of beer over his important papers, Jack yanked him away and accidentally broke his arm (the imagery of alcohol damaging Jack's work is not accidental). Later, while sober, Jack beat up a student of his for slashing his tires; alcohol is not necessarily a trigger for these outbreaks, merely an accelerant. When Jack agrees to take the position of winter caretaker at the Overlook, it is quite literally his last chance to change and prove himself responsible.

I have to think it over to get the real meaning of "Officious little prick" in this context. I am thinking of:

  • A person who pretends to know a lot, in fact he does not (loudmouth).
  • A busybody.

In case those do not imply the knowledge level, what should "Officious little prick" be interpreted as exactly?

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    Jack is thinking that about someone he's just spoken to, I believe. Without the interaction between Jack and the "OLP", it's hard to judge if the other person deserved the insult or not, though the remainder of the paragraph certainly paints Jack as a hothead and a bit anti-social. (Jack is the main character in Stephen King's novel, "The Shining", played magnificently by Jack Nicholson) Aug 2, 2013 at 17:48
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    officious - assertive of authority in an annoyingly domineering way, esp. with regard to petty or trivial matters. If "thinking it over" led you to decide it meant a person who pretends to know a lot, [when] in fact he does not, you should probably consult dictionaries more, and make less guesses. Aug 2, 2013 at 20:13

4 Answers 4


The quoted line is the first sentence – and first paragraph – of The Shining, by Stephen King. The second paragraph begins with the following sentence, and continues with five more sentences revealing Jack Torrance's view of Stuart Ullman, a hotel manager interviewing Torrance for the position of winter caretaker.

Ullman stood five-five, and when he moved, it was with the prissy speed that seems to be the exclusive domain of all small plump men.

Torrance does not regard Ullman as a person who pretends to know a lot but in fact does not. Instead, Torrance realizes that Ullman is fully knowledgeable about the hotel. Torrance's thought, “Officious little prick”, shows that Torrance views Ullman as a pompous martinet, someone who stands on ceremony and enforces the power of his position and is not nice about doing so.


The origin of "officious" is said to be from the Latin officiosus and officium (service, office), and use to simply mean acting in specifically as a holder of an office - doing the duty, or acting with the authority invested in, of the office you hold.

Perhaps this is telling of English-speaking Euro-American culture, but this has come to be meant as an exclusively bad thing. At first the term was just modified with things like "unduly", "excessively", "pompously", "aggressively", and so on. However at some point people seemed to have stopped using the word in any other way, and the term "officious" itself has gained an implied link to all of the previous less-than glowing adjectives. Even if you are "just doing your job", you would not want to be seen as being "officious".

The key meaning conveyed by the term now holds an implication that a person is wielding an authority granted to them solely by their office or position, and in your example usage the author makes special point with "little prick" and "prissy speed...small plump men" to point out that the person has no perceived natural authority.

This then cognitively links to a kind of suggested "Napolean complex", or just generally the idea that when you give a relatively weak person access to power and authority they will wield it zealously and with relish and use it gain control and influence they otherwise wouldn't have.

The author is trying to express all these ideas, and "officious little prick" is an extremely pithy way to do this. Without even knowing it, this phrase is personally the only way I've ever used the term itself - now I know where it came from :)

In conclusion, Jack Torrance thinks that Stuart Ullman is naturally weak, annoying, overbearing, and uses the authority granted to him by his position to control others; he insists on things being done "by the book", even if he made the rules up himself, and he likes tries to control how people do things such that he is seen as meddling, overbearing, controlling, and especially prideful of his standing - a standing which is seen as high only because of his official title/office, rather than any natural strengths or having earned it. He is therefore thought of as an "officious little prick".


The dictionary meaning of "officious" is something like "too intrusive in offering help" but that's probably not what Jack had in mind.

Another (some would say incorrect) meaning is something like "overbearing in exercising one's authority". Not all dictionaries list this meaning (Google's dictionary does). This is probably what Jack thought of his interviewer.

The word comes from Latin officiosus "dutiful, obliging".


too ready to offer help or advice, etc, especially when it is not wanted; interfering. Chambers
volunteering one's services where they are neither asked nor needed : meddlesome Webster

[I don't think I need to define this!]

derog slang : an abusive term for a man, especially a self-important fool. Chambers
usually vulgar : a spiteful or contemptible man often having some authority Webster

Another example of the usage of this idiom (which I found through Google) is as follows (This story is from the UK.):

Back in the late 80's a friend and I were waiting, one Sunday afternoon, to catch a train ...
Eventually our train arrived. It was one of those little three carriage jobs that stopped at all the rural stations. Remember also this was the late 80's so trains were really fithy, decrepit things . So were boarded the empty train and sat down.
Five minutes into the journey along came the ticket inspector so we produced our tickets. He was wearing a cap so I should have known that trouble was brewing. "I'm afraid these tickets are not valid". We both looked stunned and said we had just bought them and we checked to make sure the destination, etc. was correct - everything appeared to be in order. Then the officious little prick proceded to tell us that we were sitting in a first class carriage and our tickets weren't valid. We immediately offered to change carriages i.e next one along, but oh no this wasn't good enough for the little shit. He told us that if we didn't pay to make our tickets up to first class that he would kick us off at the next station. He even went to get the 'effin rule book to show us.
I hope that that bloke has a painful demise preferably involving his rule book.

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