We are in an impartial hearing to get special education for our son. The school social worker testified a tremendous load of lies, distortions and nonsense. She (having set herself up as an armchair expert on everything in the DSM-5) didn't see any outward signs of OCD or anxiety in the child => therefore the highly qualified experts' diagnoses (made after careful work-ups) must be total B.S., and the child's parents must be delusional. I need to describe her (or her statements or her attitude) in my written closing argument. Know-it-all feels too informal for this kind of document. Unhumble isn't a word. Dismissive only covers part of it. I want to get at the arrogance of the ignorant. Well, not exactly ignorant. It's a person who thinks that from a two-week unit in one college course she has now mastered everything there is to know about a complex psychiatric condition. Her knowledge is at the level of a dabbler, but being an anti-snob, she thinks that her down-to-earth intuition and street smarts make her better qualified than the highly trained specialists. (Whom she laughs at.)

It's okay to pull in a character from popular culture who fits this description, perhaps with some sarcasm. Sometimes such an approach is very effective. See this example. If you come up with something really good that is a different part of speech, e.g. a verb, that's okay, I'll try to work with it.

I was asked to give an example sentence. I'll try, but really, I would rather put together a sentence around a particularly effective word or phrase that really gets the idea across. In her conceited ignorance, Ms. X dismisses the child's OCD, on the assumption that if the symptoms are not trotted out in her office, the condition must be a figment of his parents' imagination. (In a separate sentence I'll give a statistic about how long, on average, it takes OCD to get diagnosed, because it can be so well hidden.)

Note 1: the answers suggested to the OP who was looking for an equivalent to a Polish idiom did not have the formal tone I need.

Note 2: Quack, etc., don't work here. If I take my son to see a doctor or therapist, and I think the person is a quack, that's different from the current situation. I would be paying the quack. Here, the social worker is a gatekeeper who is preventing the child from getting needed services and accommodations. She is the queen who gets to decide who gets what, and she can do so in a completely arbitrary way.

Note 3: Charlatan doesn't work because she isn't pretending to be an expert on OCD, etc. She just assumes she has enough knowledge of the subject to say "I did not see any evidence of OCD" => "therefore the parents are blowing a little bit of normal adolescent anxiety out of proportion". Pretentious is a little different from pretender. Pretender doesn't work, for the same reason as for charlatan. She hasn't made unjustified or false claims or statements about her personal status, abilities, or intentions. She just thinks she knows better than the experts (whom she thinks have been manipulated by the horrible, Machiavellian parents).

Note 5: Please don't get too sophisticated on me! If I use a word the hearing officer doesn't know, I'll have to explain it, and then I'm back at square one! Anyway, I'm glad the question got reopened, I'm seeing a number of promising ideas here.

  • 1
    @aparente001 - I know the goal on this site is to ask questions and get answers, but it's unavoidable that we are all human and there is always spillover from other motives and interests. I'm reviewing a lot of my old comments and, on rediscovering this question, I find I'm curious how things turned out for you and your child. I know it's off-topic, but if there's anything to add in that respect, I think a lot of people who arrive here might like to know both the word they were looking for and how your story turned out. :)
    – Aiken Drum
    Dec 29, 2017 at 11:42
  • 1
    @AikenDrum - Sweet of you to ask. I lost the hearing and won on appeal. New York is a two-tier state, meaning that ... Dec 29, 2017 at 14:58
  • 1
    ... either side can file an appeal within 30 days by writing (a) a Petition that points out the errors the hearing officer made in the conduct of the hearing, the written decision, and the management of logistics before and after the hearing; and (b) a Memorandum of Law that points out how the hearing officer misinterpreted or misused or ignored key elements of case law. No new evidence is considered, meaning no documents, no recordings, no new witness testimony. The Review Officer and her clerk go through the entire record.... Dec 29, 2017 at 15:01
  • 1
    42 pages! I wonder how the costs of your child's education compare to the presumably-massive legal fees the school board incurred, twice, on behalf of taxpayers to try to avoid those same costs. For some reason, I find myself betting they're nowhere near. Sigh. Government. :) Glad to hear it worked out, anyway. Thanks for the update!
    – Aiken Drum
    Dec 30, 2017 at 2:20
  • 1
    @AikenDrum - The amount of money the district spent fighting us, with no financial incentive, was appalling. I FOIAed to get the figures. $40K to the hearing officer, and a total of $80K to their lawyer. Dec 31, 2017 at 18:33

11 Answers 11


I think you are dealing with a real bad case of confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.

That being said this person is clearly unqualified to make OR deny a diagnosis.


  • This is going to work great for my general analysis of the district's approach. Nov 2, 2016 at 18:22
  • 1
    What can I say? BEST of luck fighting the bureaucratic windmill, from one concerned parent-of-a-unique-human-being to another.
    – Bookeater
    Nov 2, 2016 at 18:26

If you want to appear to be compassionate and understanding (as opposed to oppositional and judgemental, for example, which often happens when challenging people who are in a position to judge you/yours), you can state that she evinces a classic example of the Dunning-Kruger effect of being in possession of inappropriate confidence.

As the (Dunning) article states, we are all confident idiots. In Dunning's words,

In many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.

Or, simply, she is over-confident.

  • Ah, but it's no longer the school district who's going to decide. Now it will be the hearing officer. I'm not challenging him. And it is understood that parents only go to due process when EVERYTHING else has failed. If the parent weren't rather bitter by that point, the hearing officer would scratch his head and wonder, why are we here? Nov 12, 2016 at 21:19

It sounds as though the social worker arrived at her conclusion after a superficial analysis based on a superficial examination and with relatively superficial knowledge of the various ways OCD can manifest itself depending on the child and on the conditions of the exam. In contrast, your doctors made their diagnoses after thorough analyses of their thorough examinations and a broad and deep knowledge base of many children with OCD.

Superficial, from The Oxford English Dictionary

Not thorough, detailed, or complete; cursory ............

2004 Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) (Nexis) 3 Oct. c20 Today, in an age of specialization, few people have more than superficial ability in two fields


1945 H. A. Larrabee Reliable Knowl. ii. 76 Flights of fancy based upon superficial analogies and whims have misled millions for centuries

I suggest that you do not call the social worker herself superficial, or even explicitly call her training superficial, just the examination she made and her analysis of her examination, unless you are certain that you will never need her good will and you are certain that the people sitting in judgment of the case will not close ranks to protect one of their own.

I suggest something like:

Ms. Johnson arrived at an erroneous conclusion based on the necessarily superficial examination she was able to make with the time constraints and other constraints under which she was working.

Note that everyone answering your question is accepting your view of the situation based on only a superficial understanding of what is going on. (But it rings true.)

  • 1
    This is promising. Also, I like your idea of giving the individual a graceful out. The specific graceful out I would give her is that her expertise lies elsewhere. After all, someone specialized in diagnosing and treating OCD would probably not be a great school social worker. OCD only affects a small percentage of a middle school population. The social worker needs to be able to work with everyone. Oct 26, 2016 at 1:28
  • 1
    @aparente001 I wish you not luck, but that you put together a cogent presentation of your case and respond to questions and misinformation with calmness and maybe even a bit of humor and always intelligently. Don't give anyone an opening to dismiss you as hysterical or bitter.
    – ab2
    Oct 26, 2016 at 1:50
  • Thank you. Hopefully I managed to do that in the hearing. My testimony came at the end of the whole thing. Before that, I was just asking questions of witnesses. And before that, I was assembling the exhibits. Now I am at the last step, the written Closing Argument. I have a feeling "know-it-all" wouldn't have the right tone! Oct 26, 2016 at 1:57

Some ideas: smart aleck, braggart, walking encyclopedia, bragging (one's knowledge), disdainful (of other's knowledge), haughty, presumptuous, proud, puffed up, etc.

It is also possible to use formulas like he/she believes that he/she has the monopoly of the truth. Look for synonyms for "arrogant" or "immodest".

  • 2
    Welcome to English Language and Usage. You don't need to list all the possible words and phrases. Please select one word or phrase that is the closest to what the OP wants and explain why it could be an answer. Please visit Help Center and read How do I write a good answer?
    – user140086
    Oct 25, 2016 at 8:26
  • 1
    Thank you for your time and interest in trying to improve my answer. I deeply appreciate it. However, I did not make a "list with all the possible words and phrases." After thoughtful consideration, I picked a sample of some words that might be useful in this case. I would understand your position if I had copied and pasted a long list of synonyms. Instead, I offered a formula that could work and suggested checking other sources. Some people appreciate receiving more than one word or phrase to choose from. See "Words for ambitious [closed]". Thanks again!
    – Juan M
    Oct 25, 2016 at 21:30
  • Whether Juan listed too many words or not, this answer contains three of the terms that came to my own mind. Personally, I would say "presumptuous" is probably the best choice for the OP, but I'm not presumptuous enough myself to think I know for certain what's best in their highly-charged context.
    – Aiken Drum
    Nov 2, 2016 at 17:49

A pedant is

a person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules or with displaying academic learning." (NOAD)

The pedant's excessive concern indicates the same arrogance, as well as annoyance, as know-it-all. There is, of course, the adjective form, pedantic, and the excessive concern itself, pedantry.

(A pedant, though, like a know-it-all, might actually know what they are talking about, so it might not fit the situation you describe—but then I would argue that know-it-all might not either.)

Beyond the answer:

Thesaurus.com just taught me the gendered synonym bluestocking:

a woman with considerable scholarly, literary, or intellectual ability or interest."

I don't believe this word, though, carries the connotations of excess, arrogance or annoyance. It would not fit the situation you describe, or at least not achieve the ends you seek.


I can't think of a pithy, formal noun for this, but I think you can do a decent job with some well-chosen adjectives. "Self-satisfied" seems particularly apt in its connotations of conceited smugness. "X has shown nothing but smug, self-satisfied ignorance in her sweeping dismissal of our son's symptoms." You could also use "self-righteous," an even more strongly negative word. I'm unsure how scathing to be, as I can imagine that you might be trying to walk an unfairly fine line between expressing the true depths of this woman's malignant anti-intellectualism and maintaining your cool and poise so your words don't sound like crazed hyperbole.

(PS: This kind of thing makes me so angry, and I hear it all the time. My parents were told by an autism expert at Stanford a little over ten years ago that my brother could not have Asperger's "because he treats people differently than objects." That is about as absurd as bringing a snowball into the Senate and calling it proof that global warming is a hoax. "Invisible disabilities" like learning disorders can be especially crippling because of the constant burden of proving that the disability is valid. I wish you the best of luck in the hearing!)


You are biased/emotional in wanting to label an individual when in fact your context/setting is a formal hearing where biases/emotion should be excluded. You should instead describe her action.

She made use of an heuristic technique to come up with a diagnosis for your son.

Definition: A heuristic technique , often called simply a heuristic, is any approach to problem solving, learning, or discovery that employs a practical method not guaranteed to be optimal or perfect, but sufficient for the immediate goals.

There are various sub categories of heuristic techniques applicable to medical diagnosis, which relate to cognitive biases which seem to be what you ae looking for. Link

  • 1
    'acting outside her competence' or 'making unsupported claims' are the standard phrases. ('heuristic technique' doesn't address the question, any more than 'writing a report' does)
    – smci
    Aug 28, 2017 at 17:00

I don't think there's a single word that meets all of the original requirements, but the word hubris comes close. Hubris means excessive pride or self-confidence, to the point where a person believes themselves to know better than authority, and usually leads to some sort of eventual downfall. In ancient Greek tragedy, hubris was typically found in those defying or believing themselves to be above the gods or the social mores of the time.

The biggest problem with this word is it may not be known by a less well-read bureaucrat. Better used in writing than speech, so the reader can consult any of the innumerable free reference sources that exist if they don't know the word. Using the provided example sentence:

In her hubris, Ms. X dismisses the child's OCD, on the assumption that if the symptoms are not trotted out in her office, the condition must be a figment of his parents' imagination.

Another example:

For Ms. X to reject the careful opinions of multiple experts and the parents themselves in favor of her personal opinions based solely on her brief interactions with the boy and her limited knowledge of the field strikes me as hubris rather than concern for his well-being.

  • Promising! Can you try putting it into a sentence that would fit the context, so I can see how one fits it into text? Jan 10, 2017 at 18:37
  • Added a couple of examples.
    – barbecue
    Jan 10, 2017 at 19:03
  • I like this answer because it describes an attribute she has, rather than a thing that she is. So it's insulting (and accurate) without resorting to name-calling. She clearly has a base case of Dunning-Kreuger, but it's hard to put that in a sentence without having to get side-tracked into describing the DK effect. Jan 14, 2021 at 9:29
  • 'acting outside her competence' or
  • 'making unsupported claims' or simply
  • 'speculating'/'conjecturing'

The word "pansophist" is defined by oxforddictionaries.com as

A person possessing or pretending to universal knowledge

Obviously, in this case it's the "pretending to" meaning that applies.


Arrogant naivety

This was the first phrase that came to my mind.

From Merriam-Webster:

Arrogance: an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions

Naivety: If he compromised himself, then it was because of his political ignorance and naivety.

In her arrogant naivety, Ms. X dismisses a child's OCD, on the assumption that if the symptoms are not trotted out in her office, the condition must be a figment of the parents' imagination.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.