Douglas G. Wilson
douglas at NB.NET
Sat Dec 18 13:51:21 UTC 2004
From Michael Quinion's "World Wide Words", latest issue:
Q. Who was smart Alec? ....
A. For many years, Smart Alec or Smart Aleck was thought to be no
more than a generic character, first cousin to Clever Dick. For the
truth, we are indebted to Professor Gerald Cohen, who has traced
him to a real person (for the full story, see G L Cohen, Studies in
Slang, Part 1, 1985). The original was Alex Hoag, a celebrated
thief in New York in the 1840s.
A similar explanation is given in Quinion's new book.
I don't have immediate access to Gerald Cohen's 1985 book.
I note that this etymology is called (not just "a convincing theory" or so
but) "the truth". I suppose that this would tend to indicate that there is
very strong textual evidence. But I seem to recall somebody saying that
there was [as yet] no decisive textual confirmation of this origin.
Perhaps Gerald Cohen can give us the latest word?
I had no trouble verifying the existence and transient notoriety of
Alexander Hoag when I looked into this a while back, but I was unable to
verify a connection with "smart-aleck" which began to be popular some years
Is the Alexander Hoag etymology supported by solid citations, or is it
-- Doug Wilson
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