I'm looking for a way to describe someone who thinks everyone is incompetent (that is, doesn't know anything) and always has to explain every minute (small) detail because his perception of the person's competence is that it's very low (thinking the person is not that smart).

If this person were here, he'd probably end this post with...

P.S. To answer the question go to the bottom of the page, type in the answer, and then hit submit. I should be able to see it relatively quickly.

How would you describe somebody like that?

  • 1
    "Incompetent" doesn't mean "doesn't know anything" or "not that smart". Competence is about ability to perform tasks, not knowledge or intelligence. Jul 14, 2015 at 0:46
  • 8
    Can someone higher-rep roll back the edit? Normally I'm in favor of removing "commentary/irrelevant" portions of questions, but the excised postscript not only added humor, but demonstrated the behavior in question.
    – pyobum
    Jul 14, 2015 at 2:07
  • 1
    The word "douchebag" comes to mind.
    – marsh
    Jul 14, 2015 at 17:07
  • 2
    Can you please explain why other answers don't fit also?
    – ermanen
    Jul 20, 2015 at 17:37

23 Answers 23


The compulsive need to exolain everything in the minutest detail is contained in the rhetorical term Epexegesis

epexegesis (ɛˌpɛksɪˈdʒi:sɪs) (Collins) (plural) -ses (-,si:z) (rhetoric)

  1. the addition of a phrase, clause, or sentence to a text to provide further explanation

  2. the phrase, clause, or sentence added for this purpose

Example: ' his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbour' is an epexegesis of 'your neighbour's house (beth).'

Epexegetic, and epexegetical, are formed regularly. On the analogy of Athlete from Athletic, the perpetrator of obsessive explanation is an epexegete: (cf. 'exegete' n.)

epexegete (ɛˌpɛksɪˈdʒi:t) (hapaxlegomenon)

(noun) a person who provides minutely detailed explanation.

That doesn't cover the infantilizing attitude this person shows to those around; but it sort of describes the obsession that is so annoying.

infantilizing: treating someone as if that person were a child, with the result that they start behaving like one: (Cambridge online)

Now, a few years later (2021), 'mansplaining'would have to be included in a complete answer to this question. (Merriam Webster)

  • 2
    IMO, this hasn't truly become English; it's still Greek. Colloquial? certainly not. Plus one all the same.
    – Mazura
    Jul 24, 2015 at 23:28
  • 1
    Thank you for your answer! I feel this response fits the closest to what I was looking for. Jul 25, 2015 at 7:31

"Having to explain every minute detail" is not explicit in the definition of the word, but it is the sort of behavior you might expect from someone who

patronizes: speak to or behave toward someone as if they are stupid or not important

other people.

That particular meaning works with the verb form (patronize) and adjective form (patronizing). Patronizer is out there, but it seems to get more use for denoting someone who engages in the more pleasant sort of patronizing (sponsoring, supporting, or bringing trade to). If you're willing to accept a phrase rather than a single word, you could describe someone as a "patronizing overexplainer."

If you're just looking for an adjective, another suitable word is

haughty: having or showing the insulting attitude of people who think that they are better, smarter, or more important than other people

though its definition also lacks the specific detail of feeling the need to explain minutiae to others.

P.S. I included links for the questioner because common search engines apparently proved too difficult. Positioning the mouse cursor over the red letters in italics and left-clicking with the mouse will open the pages with the quoted definitions.

  • 3
    "He is [so bloody] patronizing", fits better than "The boss patronizes everybody." And I realize your P.S is written in jest.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 13, 2015 at 6:45
  • @Mari-LouA Agreed. The verb form has some ambiguity to it (excepting a negative statement: "Don't patronize me!"), but if we say someone is patronizing, the meaning is clear.
    – pyobum
    Jul 13, 2015 at 6:48
  • I really like this answer, but the biggest issue for me is that those words don't encompass the fact that the person goes into excessive detail. I've had a lot of trouble trying to find a word that describes just that. Someone who patronizes or has a haughty attitude, but shows these character traits by explicitly going into excessive detail. Jul 13, 2015 at 7:17
  • 1
    What about just 'overexplainer'? If they're always explaining everything more than necessary, that at least implies the attitude toward others' intelligence levels.
    – DCShannon
    Jul 14, 2015 at 0:35
  • 1
    Lol, I see what you did in "P.S." paragraph Jul 14, 2015 at 11:04

I can't think of a good phrase for this, but if you are looking for descriptors, the two that come to mind are condescending and belittling.

Though these don't specifically incorporate this person's perception of the lack of knowledge of those he is belittling, at least they describe the resulting behavior.

  • 5
    Condescension does imply that the one condescending believes the one they're condescending to doesn't understand or know the fundamental ideas behind the concept (being condescended over? I think that's the right wording). It's for this reason I believe this answer most closely fits the asker's needs.
    – talrnu
    Jul 13, 2015 at 13:00

Maybe you're looking for the Dunning-Kruger effect?

"The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude. Conversely, highly skilled individuals tend to underestimate their relative competence, erroneously assuming that tasks that are easy for them are also easy for others."

  • 10
    I'm trying to work out if it's safe to upvote. Jul 13, 2015 at 10:09
  • 4
    This doesn't apply; the "someone" of the OP might well be competent themselves and might assume tasks that are easy for them are hard for others. Jul 14, 2015 at 16:31

What about pontifical? Google defines it as characterized by a pompous and superior air of infallibility.

  • This is very good. Though I suppose it focuses more on the feeling of the person believing they are right, than denigrating others for being wrong.
    – Silverfish
    Jul 13, 2015 at 9:47
  • It perpetuates anti-catholic discourse, though, so I'm gonna have to -1. Jul 14, 2015 at 3:03
  • 1
    @thedarkwanderer If the discourse makes valid points, then there is no reason to censor it. While this answer isn't really correct for the question being asked, pontifical is a good word for anyone's vocabulary. Your -1 seems rather unfair so all I can do is +1 to balance things out. Jul 14, 2015 at 17:23
  • This perpetuates anti-catholic discourse, though, so I'm gonna have to +1 (aside from the fact that "this answer is useful").
    – Mazura
    Jul 24, 2015 at 23:23

A know-it-all? Doesn't literally fit your definition, but does imply it, as someone who is convinced that they know everything and have all the answers is by extension likely to think that everyone else doesn't.

  • I like this, it would be better if we had a "know-better-than-you" or similar!
    – Silverfish
    Jul 13, 2015 at 9:59

Pedant might apply. According to Wikipedia A pedant is a person who is excessively concerned with formalism, accuracy, and precision, or who makes an ostentatious and arrogant show of learning.

  • ...with the added flexibility of pedantry, pedantic.
    – Hugh
    Jul 22, 2015 at 3:23

One adjective similar to many already mentioned, but which carries a sense of the tendency to administer to inferior intellects and to lecture, is

self-righteous 1. piously self-assured and smugly moralistic


Looking into the definition, moralstic is defined as:

characteristic of or relating to a narrow-minded concern of the morals of others


So as a descriptive term, self-righteous includes the notion that the person described, in being "piously," or intractably, "self-assured," most often would unjustifiably assume the inferiority of others' opinions and intellects. And in being "moralistic," the self-righteous person more often than not, whether out of a skewed notion of benevolence or just a desire to hurt someone's feelings, would attempt to correct the other's perceived faulty reasoning. This could extend to general criticism of of a person's competence, as opposed to restricting it to moral concerns.


Superiority Complex: An exaggerated feeling of being superior to others. A psychological defense mechanism which allows an individual to overcome or conceal feelings of inferiority.


'Conceited' could be a good candidate for what you are looking for.

Someone who thinks they are so clever that they can do no wrong and everyone else does not measure up to their superiority.


overweening (ˌəʊvəˈwiːnɪŋ Pronunciation for overweening )


1.(of a person) excessively arrogant or presumptuous

2.(of opinions, appetites, etc) excessive; immoderate


He was very blank, where it would be completely clear that it includes the viewing other people as incompetent and going into extreme detail.

I'll offer a few ideas to choose from: Dismissive, superior, egotistical, domineering, disdainful, dismissive, narcissistic, asshole (sorry -- this one is not an adjective), dogmatic, supercilious, overbearing, having an inflated sense of his own worth/intelligency/abilities, alienated by his own inflated opinion of himself, disrespectful, belittling, too smart for his own good, hypercritical, snobbish, above everybody else, insufferable, and as someone already said, pedantic.

Interfering, nitpicky. Incapable of delegating. This one isn't an adjective, but you could say that he breathes down everyone's neck. Backseat driver.

Control freak. This means everything has to be done just so, and he can't allow anyone any autonomy or initiative. There is an adjective for this: controlling.

  • 1
    narcissistic asshole; no comma. +1.
    – Mazura
    Jul 24, 2015 at 23:12
  • "Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by an over-inflated sense of self-importance, as well as dramatic, emotional behavior that is in the same category as antisocial and borderline personality disorders. In addition to these symptoms, the person may display arrogance, show superiority, and seek power." –Wiki
    – Mazura
    Jul 24, 2015 at 23:16
  • It's like you're throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. But some of those words are very good. +1 Jul 25, 2015 at 0:09
  • @mbnyc, you're right! I'm just brainstorming. It can be hard to tell which word is going to satisfy that itch for a word that the OP has. Jul 25, 2015 at 0:44

Well, if you twist it you can adjust your phrasing by saying "he acted superior towards his employees" or "being around this person gives me a false sense of inferiority"

But I believe the best word that comes to mind would be "Elitist", as it would also go along side with other words that describe its attitude towards other people and view on self.


  1. (of a person or class of persons) considered superior by others or by themselves, as in intellect, talent, power, wealth, or position in society:
    elitist country clubbers who have theirs and don't care about anybody else.


  • Welcome to the site @Juksefantomet! Have you thought of building your answer around the single word 'superior', since the question is looking for a single word rather than a pithy phrase? Jul 13, 2015 at 14:01
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    I just logged in for the first time since i created my account, and to my surprise i discovered i had submitted a post a loong time ago. @EleventhDoctor sorry for ignoring that reply all in all 2 years ago! But her, better late then never right? Oct 6, 2017 at 8:11
  • This made me smile @jukse! Don't worry, you're forgiven - I'm still here 2 years on :-) Oct 7, 2017 at 9:50

I would call such a person smug. But it seems a bit of an understatement. Holier-than-thou is also a good way of putting it.


There's contemptuous, from (of course) "contempt", which Merriam-Webster defines as "[the] feeling that someone or something is not worthy of any respect or approval".


didactic (adj.):

  1. (mainly disapproving) intended to teach, especially in a way that is too determined or eager, and often fixed and unwilling to change

'a didactic approach to teaching'

Source: CDO

  1. (i) intended to teach, particularly in having moral instruction as an ulterior motive

    (ii) in the manner of a teacher, particularly so as to appear patronising

'his tone ranged from didactic to backslapping'

Source: ODO


The word pedantic can mean "ostentatious in one's learning," always showing off and lording it over others who are less knowledgeable.

Actually, "lording it over," might not be too bad.


Possibly related: a misanthrope is a person who basically hates the whole human race. In my experience, most misanthropes are misanthropes because they think that almost everyone is stupid. (That's my reason, anyway.)

  • 1
    Yes, this might be what the OP is looking for -- but let's make it an adjective: misanthropic. Jul 24, 2015 at 14:05

I would call that person Laurence J. Peter, who originated the Peter Principle: "managers rise to the level of their incompetence." He studied managerial psychology and observed that all people are promoted until they reach a position at which they are incompetent, at which point they are no longer promoted.

In other words, I would call someone who thinks everyone is incompetent "Correct".

  • This is side commentary and not an answer. "Correct" means "right or accurate", not "thinks everyone is incompetent". Jul 14, 2015 at 16:34
  • 1
    erm.. not "everyone" is a manager, though... (luckily)
    – Margana
    Jul 15, 2015 at 23:02

I'm reading your question...

I'm looking for a way to describe someone who thinks everyone is incompetent (i.e. doesn't know anything) and always has to explain every minute (small) detail because his perception of the person's competence is that it's very low (thinking the person is not that smart).

... and I'm thinking I know people like this. A boss I used to have and a close relative, in particular.

So to answer your question I began by asking myself what these two people had in common that might make them this way.

Some characteristics they shared (in my estimation) were:

  • deeply insecure about themselves
  • frequently compensated for their insecurity by convincing themselves (subconsciously, perhaps) that others can't possibly be as smart as they are
  • their treatment of others was a defensive maneuver designed (again, probably subconsciously) to protect their fragile ego

The words that come to mind when thinking of these people include:

insecure, fragile, delusional, short-sighted and self-destructive

On a more superficial level (and maybe more relevant to the context of your question) I would say these people were:

inconsiderate, rude and condescending

  • Your characteristics fit narcissism to a 'T'.
    – Mazura
    Jul 24, 2015 at 23:54
  • Absolutely right. A perfect fit. It didn't come to mind when I wrote my answer. I think I associate narcissism to a degree with jerks and a$$holes, and neither of these two people I referred to were fundamentally mean. In fact I felt sad for them. But you should post an answer with this word. Jul 24, 2015 at 23:58
  • It is, see here. Although it's buried. Most of your examples appear in other answers; take 'em all out and just use this ;)
    – Mazura
    Jul 25, 2015 at 0:00

I'd always go for supercilious in such contexts...

supercilious (Cambridge dictionary)
behaving as if you are better than other people, and that their opinions, beliefs, or ideas are not important



feeling or showing anger or annoyance at what is perceived as unfair treatment.

  • To feel you are being treated unfairly is not the same as believing everyone to be incompetent.
    – Chenmunka
    Jul 20, 2015 at 18:02


(often humorous) The act or habit of describing or regarding something as unimportant, of having no value or being worthless.

  • 2
    Incompetent is hardly the same thing as worthless.
    – choster
    Jul 13, 2015 at 19:09

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