Every sector has them: the employee who has had very little formal training about a certain program, device or concept, but has done research into it himself and figured out just enough to have a negative impact on the normal operations.

I'm talking about something like a manager who knows just enough about Outlook to make a software extension to regularly delete some unneeded contacts, but not enough to realize that this extension will remove those contacts from the contact managing server as well. Or a soccer mom who knows that they can refill their oil under the hood, but can't tell their oil tank from their wiper fluid canister.

I'm looking for a way to express this in as little words as possible, preferably a single word, but 2 or 3 words will also be fine. I'm specifically looking for an adjective, something you can say about a person like "He's X" or "That X man".

  • There is a quote by Einstein; "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing". Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 14:22
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    @ElliottFrisch: Einstein was quoting Pope: "A little learning is a dangerous thing/Drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring", universally misquoted as a little knowledge... Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 14:33
  • @ElliottFrisch I'm looking for something which is even shorter, because let's face it, that Einstein quote is about as long as what I'm trying to say. and i'm looking for an adjective, something you can say about a person. I'll clarify that in the question.
    – Nzall
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 14:37
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    @NateKerkhofs If there was a single word for the concept, I don't think the quote would have been necessary (twice). Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 14:45
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    Why the obsession on this site to find one-word descriptors for complex ideas?
    – WS2
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 18:11

3 Answers 3


You'll probably get quite a few suggestions, but unless they're really good I'd stick with your own wording, "knowing just enough to be dangerous". It's good as it stands, and isn't too long either. But I'll just suggest replacing "dangerous", because as commonly used it implies danger in a wider area than that of mere technical competence. Someone might be described as "dangerous" if they are a threat to the politics of the office, a back-stabber, a gossip, a schemer. To restrict it to the area you're talking about, I'd say "knowing just enough to be a hazard", or "just enough to be a menace".

  • I hadn't considered yet using "hazard" instead of "danger". I'll give an upvote for that. if noone comes up with a better answer soon, i'll accept it as well.
    – Nzall
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 15:02
  • Reminds me of the title of a book on programming that I always though was hilarious (on multiple levels): "Enough Rope to Shoot Yourself in the Foot: Rules for C and C++" — which I took to mean to learn enough of the language to write some really terrible code.
    – martineau
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 11:23

People used to say "sophomoric", as in somebody who's had just enough education to start making foolish selections from their new store of knowledge. "Sophomore" (do they still call second-year college students sophomores?) comes from the Greek roots for "wise" and "foolish".

I haven't heard the usage in years though, so you might end up just puzzling your audience.

  • "pretentious or juvenile" +1
    – Mazura
    Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 23:09

(dangerous) overconfidence.

Although I agree with Terpsichore that the idiomatic expression isn't really too long or difficult to understand as-is.

  • You can boil that down to one word: “foolhardiness”— but I’m not sure how well your answer or my alternative address the question. Overconfidence could arise from not knowing anything, or from being under the influence of a substance. Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 6:54

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