In the Bengali language there is an idiom, "sobjanta gamchawala" (wise towelsman), meaning a man whose occupation is merely to sell towels, but claims to know everything and gives valuable advice on any and every topic.

As you can imagine, wise and valuable are used here as sarcasm. In Bengali, the phrase is used to point out a person who always makes a comment on every topic without knowing the context.

Is there is an English idiom or phrase for that?

I'm not looking for jack of all trades is a master of none. A jack of all trades is able to do a lot of things fairly well, but sobjanta gamchawala isn't.

  • Smarty pants is a similar characterstics to the answer your question poses,but it has a HUGE difference.
    – Argot
    Jan 20, 2014 at 10:43

9 Answers 9


In English, we have the infamous know-it-all: one who knows everything; hence, a person who makes pretension to great knowledge, especially one whose didactic conversational habit conspicuously reveals his belief that he has superior knowledge on many subjects; a wiseacre; a know-all; -- usually ironical. [Colloq. & pejorative] Note: the use of this term implies that the speaker disapproves of this behavior, and may think that it is unjustified.

**know all: someone who seems to know everything and annoys other people by showing how clever they are.

No one likes him because he's such a know-all.

smarty-pants is an older idiom, for one who is obnoxiously self-assertive and arrogant, as is weisenheimer.

There is the Jerkass, who might say something like, "Sometimes I park in handicapped spaces while handicapped people make handicapped faces. I'm an asshole!" (— Denis Leary, Asshole) but this is more trope or jargon.

And, as StoneyB has kindly reminded me, there is the loudmouth:

Be loquacious, often noisily or boastfully; someone who talks too much or too loudly, esp. in an offensive or stupid way

*Harvard Square: Know-it-all capital of the universe. * - Universal Hub.

  • 5
    I think "know it all" / "know all" come closest to the flavour of the Bengali, though not perfect. But if you're going to include terms like "smarty pants" and "loudmouth" then you absolutely have to also cover "smartarse" / "smartass". Jan 5, 2014 at 1:51
  • And further to my last coment there's also: wiseacre (mentioned in a quote but not actually suggested yet), smart aleck, and wise-guy. Jan 5, 2014 at 2:52
  • 1
    For those case where "know-it-all" isn't emphatic enough, there's always "fing know-it-all". My friend once called me a "knowing f-it-all"; I've cherished it ever since.
    – MT_Head
    Jan 5, 2014 at 6:20
  • 1
    Actually I get Mr. know-it-all before asking the question, but it was too obvious so I didn't take that. Smarty pants is what i'm looking for, I will use that. Jan 5, 2014 at 10:21

I cannot call any fixed phrase to mind, but the role is familiar in American literature. In small towns it is traditionally associated with the barber or hairdresser, and in big cities with the cabdriver—no doubt because in their professions they have captive audiences.

The bartender is a related figure, but tends to be seen rather as a source of genuine wisdom, albeit of a dark and sardonic cast.

  • 1
    +1 for taxi drivers, as this is the (rather unfair) stereotype. Matthew Collings's review of John Carey's 'What Good are the Arts?' as "taxi driver bollocks" always stuck in my mind, especially as Carey's publishers saw fit to print it on the back cover.
    – Ergwun
    Jan 5, 2014 at 4:56
  • How is this on-topic in an English language website? Nov 17, 2015 at 11:57

In Eastern European Jewish tradition (carried over into American Jewish culture) there are stories of the Wise Men of Chelm, a mythical town populated by fools. The inhabitants were renowned for their clever advice, none of which made sense. For example:

A man dug a well, but didn't know what to do with the dirt from the hole. He cleverly decided to dig another hole and dumped the dirt in. But now he had a new pile of dirt.

Being wise, he realized if he dug another hole, he would still have the same problem. So he consulted the Wise Men of the village who came up with a brilliant answer: Dig a new hole twice as large.

There is a similar English tradition of Gotham, which was also populated by wise men.

Washington Irving is credited with attaching the term Gotham to New York City based on the obvious wisdom of its inhabitants.

  • Before I can up vote, are you from NYC?
    – Kris
    Jan 5, 2014 at 7:18
  • @Kris Originally Long Island, 40 years in NYC and now back to LI. Why?
    – bib
    Jan 5, 2014 at 15:25
  • The pun has been lost, nevermind.
    – Kris
    Jan 6, 2014 at 5:27
  • @Kris I am too wise to fall for that!!!
    – bib
    Jan 6, 2014 at 13:52

Someone who expresses opinions on subjects beyond the scope of their expertise is also called an ultracrepidarian


  1. noting or pertaining to a person who criticizes, judges, or gives advice outside the area of his or her expertise: The play provides a classic, simplistic portrayal of an ultracrepidarian mother-in-law.


  1. an ultracrepidarian person.

The rather charming story of the origin of the word (which literally refers to "beyond the sandal") can be found on wordsmith.org (and many other places):

The story goes that in ancient Greece there was a renowned painter named Apelles who used to display his paintings and hide behind them to listen to the comments. Once a cobbler pointed out that the sole of the shoe was not painted correctly. Apelles fixed it and encouraged by this the cobbler began offering comments about other parts of the painting. At this point the painter cut him off with “Ne sutor ultra crepidam” meaning “Shoemaker, not above the sandal” or one should stick to one’s area of expertise.

Addition: The story was told by the Roman writer Pliny the Elder, hence Latin.

  • 2
    You make it seem that the expression is universally known and accepted. It's an extremely nerdy, and rare term. People who aren't into words, won't know what the OP is on about.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 24, 2015 at 9:27

There's a quote attributed to George Burns sharing this sentiment:

Too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair.

Meanwhile the term armchair quarterback or armchair general means someone who isn't a quarterback but comments on those who are.


If the towelsman's views are very right-wing then, to a Briton, this sounds exactly like the stereotypical London taxi driver. Pity the poor passenger who has to nod quietly in agreement as the driver explains what's wrong with Britain's criminal justice system (not enough hangings), immigration policy (too many migrants), and welfare system (far too generous).

  • Those stereotypical complaints remind me of the Daily Mail's stories too! (BTW not enough hangings, seems to imply that hangings are performed in the UK, which they're not)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 5, 2014 at 6:10
  • 2
    Where do you think they get their ideas from?
    – Pitarou
    Jan 5, 2014 at 6:16
  • As the question was asking for a common phrase/idiom, I don't think this answers it. I'm sure that if you used the phrase "taxi driver" to mean this, without any additional context, nobody would know what you meant.
    – Aaronaught
    Jan 5, 2014 at 14:43

There is a famous story from American lore that encompasses the sense of:

  • someone employed at menial labor
  • who thus transacts a lot of business with many people of higher social status than them
  • and who mistakes the value of the intelligence (in the sense of information) gained in the course of his trade

Kennedy later claimed he knew the rampant stock speculation of the late 1920s would lead to a market crash. It is said that he knew it was time to get out of the market when he received stock tips from a shoe-shine boy.

-- from the Wikipedia entry for Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.

I don't know if the Bengali idiom has the same troubling assertions about intelligence (in the sense of brains) and social status. This anecdote also lacks the sense of offering a viewpoint on every topic, but I did think the parallels were interesting enough to bring up.


Armchair General - for those who pronounce on military matter: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armchair_general

"Armchair general" is a derogatory term for a person who regards themselves as an expert on military matters, despite having little to no actual experience in the military. Alternatively, it can mean a military commander who does not participate in actual combat.

It can also be used in the extended sense that you require.

  • Is this like a 'Monday morning quarterback' as in Andrew Grimm's answer?
    – Mitch
    Aug 2, 2023 at 20:21
  • Yes............
    – Greybeard
    Aug 3, 2023 at 10:20
  • Along the same lines is Armchair Lawyer/Doctor/Expert.
    – Scott
    Aug 7, 2023 at 20:45

You simply seem to mean "Half knowledge" .. http://lighthouseinsights.in/economic-times-against-half-knowledge-campaign.html (highly recommended link to understand half knowledge)

Half knowledge is worse than ignorance. -- Thomas B. Macaulay.

Smarty pants(someone who always tries to prove he is smarter than other people in a annoying way), loquacious / loud mouthed (who speaks too much) is not what you mean ,they are quite similar characteristics but have a huge difference.

Another phrase I guess would be "half-baked"-:

insufficiently thought out , ill conceived (informal) (Source: free dictionary). You can use"half baked knowledge".

  • Wait on the link, it will redirect to a better link.
    – Argot
    Jan 18, 2014 at 18:01

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