I used to know this word but cannot remember it.

Basically, it’s someone who likes the prospect of being knowledgeable about many things, or at least wants the appearance of erudition, but who is unwilling to put in the time and effort to learn new things.

Such a person may put in just enough effort to learn some trivia to impress others.

And pretentious isn’t the word I was thinking of.

  • 5
    These days, "Googler" is enough to define that concept.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 15:28
  • @tchrist - I am curious why you edited "who is" in the question title to "who's". Is it the site policy to use the shortened form in the question titles? Or isn't it rather your personal preference only? In that case you shouldn't have edited it in this way. I haven't found anything which would support such an edit in english.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/edit. Or maybe I am wrong and in the contemporary English it is already considered an error to use the full form of "is"? Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 9:59
  • Not a single word, but there is an idiom that means basically just this: jack of all trades, master of none (the second half of it can be left out and is still understood). Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 11:39
  • I was trying to make the title shorter. Might as well delete who’s altogether.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 11:39
  • @tchrist - motivation for deleting who is altogether would be more understandable :) Go on, do it! :D Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 12:50

13 Answers 13


Perhaps dilettante or dilettantish conveys what you describe.

According to Merriam-Webster Online dictionary:

a person whose interest in an art or in an area of knowledge is not very deep or serious.

Plural: dil·et·tantes or dil·et·tan·ti

  • 1
    That's the first word I thought of as well. The only point I would argue is that dilettante doesn't imply anything about the motivations of the person to whom it is applied. A dilettante could genuinely enjoy and appreciate the thing they study superficially, but they are happy with a surface level understanding.
    – Jason M
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 3:10

Per Collins English Dictionary:

sciolist — (rare) a person who gives their opinion on subjects of which they have only superficial knowledge


I can imagine use cases where shallow would work in the meaning you're asking for:

shallow, adj

lacking depth of intellect or knowledge; concerned only with what is obvious

"shallow people"; "his arguments seemed shallow and tedious"

Source: English Wordnet

  • 1
    +1. "Dilettante" is the most accurate word but I would use "intellectually shallow" for more informal contexts.
    – seismatica
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 6:33
  • 1
    I literally connected my main SE account just to upvote this!
    – IAmNoOne
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 8:56
  • @Nameless: It's kind of you :-) Commented May 21, 2015 at 11:45

I would describe this person as a know-it-all. The central definition of that term is slightly different ...

know-it-all n. One who claims to know everything and rejects advice or information from others.

... being more about the refusing to listen to other people on topics where they are actually more expert, but it can certainly be used to describe someone who likes to show off their superficial knowledge of many subjects, and I think it will be more readily understood than some of the other suggestions. In particular, dilettante is more often used to describe someone who has a superficial knowledge of one or two specific subjects, and the other suggested words are quite rare.

  • But a know-it-all might actually know quite a bit about many things. The arrogant eagerness to share that information and correct others is what makes them a "know-it-all."
    – user39425
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 5:55

You may have been thinking of a smatterer in some topic.

Of smatterer the OED says:

One who has only a slight or superficial knowledge of (now rare) or in a matter; a dabbler. Also used without const.

For which two of the numerous citations given are this pair separated in time by a couple of centuries:

  • A. 1680 Butler Rem. (1759) I. 213
    As Smatterers prove more arrogant and pert, The less they truly understand an Art.

  • 1893 Jessopp Stud. Recluse Pref. p. ix,
    A clergyman with a cure of souls··must give up all hopes of being anything but a smatterer in science.


The first word that came to my mind was poseur, for the cases where the appearance is more important than the underlying substance.


Such a person could be described as an armchair expert or armchair pundit.

From the ODO:

[as modifier] Lacking or not involving practical or direct experience of a particular subject or activity: an armchair traveller

Example sentences:

The result is a unique perspective applauded by armchair naturalists in which the stars of the film are also the videographers.

What do these armchair counter-terrorists propose that Moscow should have done?

Almost all other commentary was grotesque - the work of armchair generals.

See also this article: 'Edward Sapir was not an "armchair linguist"!'


Perhaps a dabbler?

From Merriam Webster online dictionary

Definition of dabbler: one that dabbles, such as one not deeply engaged in or concerned with something; dabbler suggests desultory habits of work and lack of persistence; a person who follows a pursuit without attaining proficiency or professional status
"he was a dabbler, learning the basics of many arts but mastering none"

Usually I've heard it used pretty much as you write it - someone who is basically playing around with whatever it is, superficially enjoys the knowledge or activity but doesn't take it seriously or invest in learning the skill.

I have also heard it used for those who investigates several related activities or fields without delving too deeply into any one of them, such as a dabbler in the sciences or someone who dabbles in the arts.


generalist: a person whose knowledge, aptitudes, and skills are applied to a field as a whole or to a variety of different fields (opposed to specialist).

… but the term is generally (!) not used in such a pejorative manner.


The first thing that came into my mind was:



showing smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one's achievements:

you can't afford to be complacent about security.

smug is also listed as a synonym (I thought that might be what you were looking for as you mentioned that 'pretentious' was not the word you were looking for).


He may put in just enough effort to learn some trivia to impress others.

Is the need to impress others with something that isn't a total fabrication the most important aspect of the word you are searching for?

Is it alright if the word is vulgar slang?

If you answered yes to both, then search no more, here's part of Wikipedia's discussion on the subject matter

Distinguished from lying

"Bullshit" does not necessarily have to be a complete fabrication; with only basic knowledge about a topic, bullshit is often used to make the audience believe that one knows far more about the topic by feigning total certainty or making probable predictions. It may also merely be "filler" or nonsense that, by virtue of its style or wording, gives the impression that it actually means something.

In his essay on the subject, William G. Perry called bull[shit] "relevancies, however relevant, without data" and gave a definition of the verb "to bull[shit]" as follows:

  • To discourse upon the contexts, frames of reference and points of observation which would determine the origin, nature, and meaning of data if one had any
  • To present evidence of an understanding of form in the hope that the reader may be deceived into supposing a familiarity with content.

The bullshitter generally either knows the statements are likely false, exaggerated, and in other ways misleading or has no interest in their factual accuracy one way or the other. "Talking bullshit" is thus a lesser form of lying, and is likely to elicit a correspondingly weaker emotional response: whereas an obvious liar may be greeted with derision, outrage, or anger, an exponent of bullshit tends to be dismissed with an indifferent sneer.
Wikipedia: Bullshit

Oxford English Dictionary has this to say



Derivative of


noun, vulgar slang

  • Stupid or untrue talk or writing; nonsense. verb (bullshits, bullshitting, bullshitted)
  • Talk nonsense to (someone), typically to be misleading or deceptive.

Sciolism is superficial knowledge. ;)

  • 4
    a definition from a reputable source would enhance your answer,
    – P. O.
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 19:47
  • 2
    It would also help if you answered "sciolist" as meaning "one who has a superficial knowledge", since the question was looking for "someone who ..." :-) (Good find, though.)
    – Hellion
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 21:38

How about wiseacre?

According to Google:

a person with an affectation of wisdom or knowledge, regarded with scorn or irritation by others; a know-all

Sciolist fits your need best, except that I have never come across the word before. Why, even the spell-check in this text box flags it as a spelling error!

Even wiseacre is rare, for that matter. I found it in some Gurdjieff book.

  • I’m afraid that “According to Google” doesn’t really work as a citation. Different people get different answers, there’s (often) no actual source named, and it is subject to change without notice.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 16:42

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