Where does the term Armchair Psychologist come from? I understand it means someone who has no formal training who 'sits in their comfortable armchair' and gives (usually) unsolicited advice to others, but where does this expression come from? When was it first used, etc.? Also, why an "armchair"? Wouldn't a psychologist usually be sitting in an armchair when they're giving an analysis?

  • 1
    Apparently there are earlier forms, but "armchair quarterback" is the version I'm the most familiar with, as a general term for someone who likes to criticize strategy from afar, but isn't directly involved. It can apply to any second-guessing or "back-seat driving", not just in sports.
    – BradC
    Jun 20, 2017 at 14:42

2 Answers 2


The oldest of these expressions seems to be arm-chair traveller in 1809, at least according to OED. OED also provides a good definition for the expression that explains why "armchair" is significant:

Based or taking place in the home as opposed to the world or environment outside; amateur, non-professional; (hence) lacking or not involving practical or direct experience of a particular subject or activity. Also: comfortable, gentle, easy.

  • 2
    On the other hand - beware of inappropriate use of the term "amateur" to mean "someone with little knowledge" ! It literally means "one who loves [the subject]" - an Italian colleague noted to me the distinction of usage in Italian: a "professional" is someone who "just does it as a job" whereas the "amateur" does it for love !
    – MikeW
    Jun 20, 2017 at 14:24
  • 2
    It implies that the X has received all their knowledge on a subject while sitting comfortably at home in their armchair without even the modicum of experience an amateur would have. All their knowledge would be received second-(or-more-)hand through books, radio, twitter, et al.
    – Rache
    Jun 20, 2017 at 18:44

An armchair stands out from other kinds of chair in that it has arms for additional comfort, and one ordinarily sits in one at home as opposed to the workplace. My desk chair at the office has arms, but it is no armchair. The psychotherapists I see on TV do not sit in armchairs, but ordinary office chairs, or at least, chairs which are not primarily intended for lounging in.

Thus, an armchair professional is one who is an amateur, or otherwise has no professional experience— or responsibility— regarding the opinions s/he is sharing.

The sense is more than two centuries old; the OED finds an entry in the September 1809 The Monthly Review:

A great portion of this volume is ocupied by a description of Edinburgh; which, while it instructs the arm-chair traveller, must be highly satisfactory to the Scottish nation.

Armchair critic is attested from 1856, armchair strategist from 1888, armchair general from 1900, and armchair quarterback from 1932.

  • 12
    The idiom is not about being amateur per se, but about being uninvolved. The "armchair X" likes being an "authority" about X, but puts no effort into it. Eg, an "amateur auto racer" would be presumed to at least zoom around back roads on occasion, if not actually participate in races, while an "armchair auto racer" would barely get out of his, er, armchair, but would instead watch races on TV and read about them.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 19, 2017 at 22:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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