Let's say that you catch your child eating a box of cookies alone. You scold him and forbid him from eating it as it is not for him to eat alone. Later, when the child is playing with his younger sibling, he realises the loophole. You forbade him from eating alone but he can have it with someone else.

Charlie saw a _______ smile spread on Devon's face as he looked at his sibling.

I am looking for a word to fill that blank. I am looking for something which would mean cunning or scheming, but not those words as they make it seem like an adult doing something nefarious. This is just an innocent child who has figured out a loophole to his advantage. There is no evil intent here. Do note that since this is in third person, so Charlie does not know what Devon is thinking only that something fishy is up.

  • 1
    "Devious", perhaps?
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 13, 2020 at 19:27
  • 2
    Guys...as I always say, if the Q is worth an answer, it is also worthy of an upvote. Nov 13, 2020 at 20:55
  • 2
    "Charlie caught the dawning of a bright idea spread across Devon's face as he took note of his sibling in the other room."
    – tblue
    Nov 14, 2020 at 0:39
  • Not an adjective, but I feel like the word “smirk” is appropriate here. Not putting this as an answer though, because you didn’t ask for alternates (and I would personally not say “…a smirk spread…”).
    – cole
    Nov 14, 2020 at 5:23
  • "Lawyer's smile", if we must coin a new term.
    – Ink blot
    Nov 14, 2020 at 15:28

7 Answers 7


Sly: having or showing a cunning and deceitful nature.

  • Charlie saw a knowing smile spread on Devon's face as he looked at his sibling.

From AHD:

knowing: ...

  1. Showing clever awareness and resourcefulness; shrewd and worldly: Even so knowing a young ruffian as William Chaloner would have had no preparation for the shock of London (Thomas Levenson).
  2. Suggestive of secret or private knowledge: a knowing glance [/smile, Lexico]
  • I feel like a "knowing smile" is often used to mean "I know what you've thinking", often for empathy. It would be aimed at a person. Nov 14, 2020 at 17:02

a smug smile/grin


Cambridge online

too pleased or satisfied about something you have achieved or something you know:

Also: a smug grin

Grin actually refers to:

smile broadly, especially in an unrestrained manner and with the mouth open.


Charlie saw a smug grin/smile spread across Devon's face as he looked at his sibling

However, I am suggesting... :


a smile that expresses satisfaction or pleasure about having done something or knowing something that is not known by someone else:

-Cambridge online

Charlie saw a smirk spread across Devon's face as he looked at his sibling

enter image description here

This is non-judgemental, and seems to suit a child's viewpoint. It's like a repressed "yenh, yenh".



Full of or showing satisfaction: a very satisfied customer; a satisfied look.

AHD https://www.ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=satisfied


I would use the word cheeky:

disrespectful in speech or behaviour; impudent: a cheeky child.

[The Free Dictionary]



Mocking, cynical, and scornful.

humorous in an unkind way that shows you do not respect someone or something:

Cambridge online

A little harsh, perhaps, but we don't really know Devon.

'A sardonic smile spread on Devon's face...'.

As used by Homer [needs update].

  • The OP said "...but not those words as they make it seem like an adult doing something nefarious.". BTW, Not my DV. Nov 14, 2020 at 20:25
  • @Cascabel - thanks for feedback. I'm sick and tired on SE of dvs with no justification shown. Anyone can do that anonymously, but it helps no-one.
    – Tim
    Nov 14, 2020 at 20:30
  • I'm sorry, Some actions like that are due to political issues here. That said, could you please at least provide a citation and source, and maybe a link to support your selection? The community here is a little difficult to satisfy until you get with the "culture". Nov 14, 2020 at 20:33
  • I would especially love to see the bit from Homer that applies...sometimes it is the oddball reference that succeeds here. Nov 14, 2020 at 20:47
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    +1 I have edited this A to bring it into guidelines as far as I understand them. If you are unhappy with my edits you can always "roll them back". Nov 14, 2020 at 21:12

This is a shit eating grin, as defined by the OED:

A broad grin expressing uncontrollable delight or (self-)satisfaction, esp. characterized by awareness of having got away with something normally considered outrageous or improper.

Note that it’s always a grin (not a smile).

  • 1
    It's worth noting that the OED adds the comment "coarse slang (originally U.S.)" - I've not heard it in British English.
    – Greybeard
    Nov 13, 2020 at 21:39
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    But he was eating cookies...
    – Tim
    Nov 14, 2020 at 8:42

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