Printable Version
Pronunciation: smêrk Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive

Meaning: To smile derisively, smugly and scornfully.

Notes: This very old genuine (unborrowed) English word lives with a large and completely English family. One instance of smirking is simply a smirk (a noun) with no suffixes. But anything like a smirk is smirky, as 'a smirky look on someone's face'. This leaves the door open for an adverb: to speak or look someone over smirkily. Anyone who smirks is a smirker, and we don't need any more of those.

In Play: Smirking most often bespeaks a poor winner: "When Bea Heine finally got the promotion over Anita Job, she smirked at everyone for a week." It needn't be highly offensive, however; it can also arise from the possession of knowledge others lack: "Aloysius couldn't help but smirk when the committee finally threw up its collective hands and came to him for advice on how to move forward."

Word History: In Old English the word for "smile" was smearcian, and this word went on to become today's smirk. Where smearcian came from, no one knows, since we don't find evidence of it in other Indo-European languages aside from Germanic. By the 14th century, smearcian was replaced by an early variant of smile and began taking on the narrowed meaning it has today. Smile was probably borrowed from a Scandinavian language, Swedish smila or Danish smile. However, it may have already been a synonym in spoken English that just never made it into print until the 1300s. (Without any smirking now, let's all thank Husain Mustfa, living in the great subcontinent of India, for suggesting this interesting Good Word to us for today.)

Dr. Goodword,

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