"Smart Alec" in NY TIMES ignores Cohen; Newish Jewish

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Sun Dec 1 07:00:50 UTC 2002



_smart alec/aleck_ n. (mid 19C+)(orig. US) an unpleasantly conceited, smug
person (cf. ALEC; CLEVER DICK). (proper name _Alec_ Hoag, a celebrated New
York City thief of 1840s, who, with his wife Melinda and his accomplice
French Jack, specialized in the PANEL GAME; for a detailed account of Hoag
and his carrer, _see_ Cohen (1985)).

   Gerald Cohen wrote about this in COMMENTS ON ETYMOLOGY.  "Smart alec" is
discussed in the FYI section of Sunday's NEW YORK TIMES, but Cohen gets no
credit!  BREWER'S is cited, but Adrian Room--who edited the new edition of
BREWER'S--is likely to have relied on Gerald Cohen's work.  From FYI in the
CITY section of today's NEW YORK TIMES:

'Smart' Alec's Cons

Q. Is it true that the term "smart alec" was coined in New York?

A. Yes. According to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (HarperCollins,
2000), "Smart Alec" was a real person, Alec Hoag, who lived in New York in
the mid-19th century, although his noted intelligence was mostly focused on
breaking the law.

Hoag was a well-known thief, pimp and confidence man who made his scores in
New York in the 1840's.

Along with his wife, Melinda, and an accomplice known as French Jack, he
operated a con called "The Panel Game" in which a prostitute lured a customer
to a room. An accomplice would then create a commotion outside the room,
prompting the mark to block the door with a table or chair. Under the
illusion of safety, the victim would fall asleep, at which point Hoag would
sneak in the room through sliding panels on the wall and would relieve the
sleeping mark of his remaining money and valuables.

Hoag generated a reputation for the ability to escape detection from both his
victims and the authorities, earning him the nickname Smart Alec. The term
was eventually applied to any conceited know-it-all.



   I saw "Newish Jewish" used to describe the cuisine for these eight crazy
nights.  There aren't many Google hits for it, but it's worth recording and
keeping  track of.

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