Let's Bring Back 'Sciolist' and Make Pretentiousness Even More Embarrassing

Your boss who always corrects you; online commenters who lead with “Actually”; that guy at the supermarket who reminded you that you shouldn’t end your sentence with a preposition — chances are, you know a lot of pompous blowhards. They’re pretentious and annoying (and in the case of the grocery store guy, wrong), but you have to deal with them anyway. So why not insult them by using sciolist, a word they likely don’t know, to add insult to injury?

man pointing finger in discussion with friends man pointing finger in discussion with friends
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Sciolist: An Annoying Know-It-All

Like scientist, conscious and prescient, sciolist (SIE-oh-list) comes from the Latin verb scire, meaning “to know.” Scio means “I know,” so a sciolist is a person who walks around saying “I know” all the time. Sound about right?

Sciolist has always been an insult, translated into everything from “smatterer” to “knowledge pretender” (two very good put-downs if you’re in need of more). When you call someone a sciolist, you’re saying that they’re acting like they know more than they actually do. It’s probably true; after all, those who are really knowledgeable don’t need to keep talking about it.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Psychology aficionados may recognize that sciolists exhibit traces of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which describes how a lack of self-awareness and metacognition contributes to overconfidence in a particular context. For example, someone who believes they know a lot about cars is too confident to question their knowledge, so they tend to mix up Lamborghinis and Ferraris without knowing it. Sciolists would rather that you think they’re smart than actually be smart.

Signs That You’re Talking to a Sciolist

It’s easy to spot a sciolist after just a few sentences (and sometimes even sooner than that). Watch out for these warning signs that your conversation partner suffers from an acute case of sciolism:

  • They interrupt you to correct you (bonus points if they’re wrong).

  • They make an off-topic comment that happens to bring up their area of expertise.

  • They ask you zero questions, or they only ask questions that lead them back to their area of expertise.

  • They roll their eyes or shake their head at you and your ignorance.

  • They assume they know more about something that you are an actual professional expert on.

  • They bring up lots of studies and statistics, but can’t quite remember where they learned them (hint: their source is I Made It Up Magazine).

  • They gloss over conversational topics where they can’t fake their knowledge.

  • They use the word “actually” in any context.

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Other Great Words to Shut a Sciolist Up

If you call a sciolist out and they don’t know what you mean (of course they don’t), try out these equally satisfying insults for someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about:

  • beef-witted - stupid, unknowledgeable

  • dabbler - someone who knows a little bit about a little bit

  • dilettante - a person with only passing knowledge in a subject

  • fachidiot - a German word meaning “a person who knows nothing outside of their own field”

  • nescient - someone who lacks knowledge

  • philistine - a person with no cultural knowledge or interest

  • senmom baka (専門バカ) - a Japanese word meaning “someone who only knows about their own specialization”

Don’t Succumb to Sciolism

Want to avoid looking like a sciolist? Add these excellent words to your vocabulary, and you’ll be impressive in your own right: