Is there a word for the joy a smart aleck feels when they point out to other people how stupid they are? Prideful seems too general. I want a word that points to intellectual hubris but also compels people to actively seek out people "stupider" than they are, just so they can try to humiliate them? Some sort of sick, warped, sensual pleasure out of being an intellectual?

an example sentence might be:

The professor would spend his evenings on Facebook, debating religion and enjoying the feeling of ___________ that came from punishing stupid people for their idiocies.

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    The one close vote that this question has attracted (as I write this) asserts that the question belongs on another site in the network. Any thoughts as to the identity of that other site?
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 27, 2017 at 6:39
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    I think this question breaks the rules of SE regarding respect for the beliefs of other members. I happen to be an atheist, but I am able to frame a question on SE EL&U about "smart alecs" that doesn't use an example that implies Christians are stupid people whose beliefs are idiocies. And if this professor is a real person, then the question also breaks the rules because you are asking for help in attacking someone. If neither of these are true or intended then you need to radically revise your question so that it cannot be interpretted in this manner.
    – David
    Sep 27, 2017 at 12:49
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    @David Or the asker is writing a novel and wants help getting this particular sentence right. That would not be objectionable. Hard to know without context.
    – MetaEd
    Sep 27, 2017 at 14:53
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    Isn't this trolling. If not, then this definitely is! ;-)
    – Strawberry
    Sep 28, 2017 at 12:19
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    @AndrewGrimm — No. The poster describes a particular atheist, but originally referred to Christians as a group. Nor has she responded to my criticism. My comment was part of review work on SE which is, as you will know, run by its users. The question holds no interest for me. I would point out that your comments also violate the SE guidelines by being personal in nature. You impute the emotion of anger to me because I criticised a post. That is a non sequitur. You then proceed to try to explain my imagined anger in terms of my imagined personal emotions. That is off limits.
    – David
    Sep 30, 2017 at 8:57

11 Answers 11


I'd say "smug" which means self-satisfaction, but is also often associated with a particularly condescending facial expression. And with your specific comment about the smile, something like this:

"His smug smile revealed his pleasure in showing us up as fools..."

  • smug is certainly close. maybe that is the best word
    – Sarah
    Sep 24, 2017 at 23:26
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    This was my first thought. "Smugness" as a noun can be used directly in the example sentence sentence, "smug superiority" also works in combination.
    – traktor
    Sep 25, 2017 at 22:42
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    Smug satisfaction is the term which fits.
    – WS2
    Sep 26, 2017 at 22:05

I'd use superiority or self-satisfaction

Superiority's definition looks benign, but it's usual usage indicates something along the lines you're after. See the example of contemporary usage:

He is a narcissistic rogue who is utterly convinced of his own brilliance and superiority to those around him.

Self-Satisfaction's definition looks closer to what you've asked; however, Dictionary.com's contemporary usage examples ironically are more benign. A good example of its use is:

They are so self-opiniated [sic], and so full of self-satisfaction, that it is hard to be patient with them.

In the context, you could also use self-congratulation


The scenario you describe reminds me of a German word. While it may not be an exact fit, it fits nevertheless.


Schadenfreude is pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. This word is taken from German and literally means "harm-joy". It is the feeling of joy or pleasure when one sees another fail or suffer misfortune. It is also borrowed by some other languages.

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    almost this, except I think one usually feels schadenfreude when watching a pain you did not cause, not one you did cause. One you hoped would happen, but would never actively try to do yourself.
    – Sarah
    Sep 24, 2017 at 23:27
  • @Sarah: As I said, it's not an exact fit! I, too, like "smug." Don Sep 25, 2017 at 1:55
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    No, that is precisely the problem @YosefBaskin. If you are the source of harm, then other words are so much more appropriate that schadenfreude is not. Also, since there are so many better words for "gaining while you're losing", schadenfreude implies you are not gaining. And more likely, losing too. Like when you can't afford a dike, and your neighbor can but goes "haha, I'll never need one, the government dike will hold", and you dogpaddle over and ask "how's that big savings working out for you?" Sep 25, 2017 at 16:27
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    But... but... this is English.StackExchange.com. So wouldn't epicaricacy be more appropriate?
    – TOOGAM
    Sep 26, 2017 at 3:10
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    @TOOGAM: Touché! Don Sep 26, 2017 at 8:49

Consider self-righteousness, which fits particularly well in your example of baiting religious folks.

The Wikipedia entry also suggests sanctimoniousness, sententiousness and and holier-than-thou attitudes.


Supercilious may be a fit depending whether or not the person feeling it is actually somewhat more knowledgeable, failing that glib.


I agree with arrogant, but I also like vainglory

inordinate pride in oneself or one's achievements; excessive vanity.

This is similar to arrogance except I associate arrogance with a negative feeling toward the person you are correcting, whereas with vainglory its more about how great you feel about yourself, not necessarily relative to the other person.


Superiority is an exact fit for the sentence.

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    yep "feeling of superiority" fits the example sentence well and I see you posted it first. You should add some dictionary definition in your answer supporting this choice though. Sep 25, 2017 at 7:52

"Mastery" is the feeling he is enjoying. He probably feels smug and superior, but those, like the enjoyment he experiences, are secondary to his sense of mastery.

Collins Dictionary offers these two definitions, among other information, for "masterful":

  1. fond of acting the part of a master; domineering; imperious
  2. having or showing the ability of a master; expert; skillful; masterly

The professor would spend his evenings on facebook, debating religion with Christians, enjoying the feeling of mastery that came from punishing stupid people for their idiocies.


how about condescending? from Collins: If you say that someone is condescending, you are showing your disapproval of the fact that they talk or behave in a way which shows that they think they are superior to other people.


The professor would spend his evenings on Facebook, debating religion with Christians, enjoying punishing stupid people for their idiocies.

The feeling is 'enjoying', he's enjoying it.

You asked for a perjorative word, but the sentence describes what the Professor is feeling - internally - and he isn't feeling something perjorative against himself, he feels good.

To fit a perjorative in the sentence has to come from the third person narrator and their judgement, i.e. an observation visible to an outsider - something about how he looks or behaves, e.g.

[..] debating religion with Christians, enjoying punishing stupid people for their idiocies, his lips curling into a cruel and self-congratulatory smile and his fingers a blur, yet every sentence he typed was the same. SMUG SMUG S M U G.


How about, "Humbug" or "Gloating"?

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    Welcome to English Language & Usage! We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Please explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.
    – NVZ
    Sep 25, 2017 at 20:33

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