19 thoughts on “Kind of a riddle

  1. Never heard of the phrase anywhere here, I can only think it reminds me of tom-foolery or mad-hattery or something along those lines… can’t think of anything positive said like that – “the act of acting like a …” is somewhat perjorative lol.

  2. Oh, hang on – the NOOB is “smart” isn’t it! D’oh!

    Perhaps it’s “smart” with the sense of “a sharp pain, as if you’ve slapped yourself on the forehead”?!

  3. Smart as in’clever and quick’
    smart as in ‘what a smart suit’
    smart as in ‘the TCP on your grazed knee might smart a bit’?

  4. I’m interested to know what the American English equivalent would be – I had no idea that ‘smart’ didn’t have this semantic meaning outside of the UK. In Britain, if I were to say “the man looked smart in his new suit” I would be stating that the man’s new suit made him look presentable and elegant. Forgive my curiosity, but what would the equivalent sentence be in American English?

    1. “Smart” is perfectly acceptable in that context, but it’s not usually the first adjective that comes to mind. Most people wouild be more likely to say, “he looks very nice (elegant, stylish, whatevert) in that suit. “Smart” in AmE usually refers to intelligence, or it can be used sarcastically, or negatively, as in, “I don’t like your smart remarks!”

  5. Thanks all for the clarifications, which I should have made at the outset. “Hair Cuttery” is indeed a regional chain, and the NOOB in question is indeed “smart.” Alexandra, in contemporary U.S., “smart” is universally used to mean intelligent or BrE “clever,” as in “smart phone.” In answer to your question, we don’t have a good equivalent for BrE “smart.” “Sharp” is a casual approximation; and your “presentable and elegant” do the trick as well.

  6. I read this as smart meaning “fashionable” not clever. I use it all the time to describe someone who looks dressed-up and stylish. I didn’t think of it as a British term.

  7. In BrE, ‘smart’ is generally referring to tidiness rather then fashion. It’s more commonly used referred to a man’s attire. Telling a lady she’s wearing a ‘smart dress’ (unless it’s uniform of some sort) would likely be received as a rather back-handed compliment. For the same reason the ad above reads in the ‘clever’ sense. A smart haircut would more likely be a short-back-and -sides.

  8. (My comment doesn’t seem to have made it in, so apologies if in fact this is a duplicate comment)

    I don’t think smart is a NOOB, so much as an out-of-fashion usage in America. A 1928 NY Times article quoted an American clothing importer using “smart” in the sense of fashionable/stylistic:

    And clothing forums (Style Forum, etc.) on the web regularly use “smart” to refer to fashion and tidiness, and, occasionally, in the negative connotation of being too smartly dressed for the work attire at a particular office.

  9. I’ve been hearing “smart” in the fashion sense all my life, such as when dressed for Easter as a child in the 1950s. “My, don’t you look smart in your Sunday suit!” (Western Pennsylvania)

  10. No question that “smart” in that sense is and has been used in U.S. Just significantly less than in UK, and, as Joel Rosner says, it’s out of fashion–not “smart,” I guess. Google Ngram of the phrase “look smart” (to eliminate other uses of “smart”) at http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=look+smart%3Aeng_gb_2012%2Clook+smart%3Aeng_us_2012&year_start=1850&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=
    shows British use consistently 50-100-+% more frequent than U.S.

  11. It’s a play on words – Hair Cuttery is using “smart” to mean both “fashionable” AND “clever; intelligent, as in, it is an intelligent choice to still use Hair Cuttery.” The idea is that the viewer may have used Hair Cuttery when he/she was younger because of Hair Cuttery’s pricing (usually around $15 for a cut) and “no appointment necessary” policy and Hair Cuttery is trying to convince the viewer that choosing Hair Cuttery is still smart (fashionable) and smart (an intelligent choice due to pricing and availability policies).

  12. Joel Rosner makes a very good point: how many NOOBS are a return of formerly common US usages, in particular from 1930-1950? I know Ben is way ahead of the rest of us in these sort of analyses, but still….

    I mention this because I have often been gobsmacked while watching some dear old US flick, to hear a character use an expression or word I could have sworn was non-US English. From the many examples that my rotting mind has forgotten, one stands out: In some 1930s flick Jimmy Cagney refers to his “flat” = apartment.

    I have a vague recollection from some wesbite that “flat” is an old NY term for apartment used to this day, but that raises the ancillary question: how many NOOBs are in fact still alive in regional American dialects. Sigh. All too complicated. Ben, over to you.

  13. I’m British, and like some other commenters, I couldn’t think of an example where smart meant fashionable, but then I found this in Oxford Dictionaries Online – fashionable, upmarket – “a smart restaurant”. But I think this use is pretty limited. We wouldn’t use it like that about people, for instance. And it wouldn’t be the first meaning I would think of on seeing that ad.

  14. I think “Britishisms” in general are more used and recognized by Americans in New York City than by Americans in general. That’s probably because in New York there have always been many more British and Irish people around. All through the 20th century there was a steady stream of Irish immigration to the New York area – not the massive influx that there was in the mid 19th century, to be sure, but still a good number of people. In addition to that you always have English, Scottish and Welsh people around as well, tourists as well as immigrants. So New Yorkers are quite used to hearing plenty of Britishisms that many people in less cosmopolitan parts of the US are rarely exposed to. One example: I imagine if you went to a bar in Peoria and asked for a “vodka and lemonade” you’d be told that they don’t have lemonade. In New York, unless you happen upon a complete rookie bartender, you’ll get a vodka with lemon-lime soda (Sprite, 7-Up, or whatever they have on tap). Rookie bartenders, at least in Manhattan, quickly learn what Brits mean by lemonade. Having said all that, however, it is not the case that “flat” is used in New York as an equivalent to apartment. The usage would be understood, but not used except by actual Brits.

  15. ‘Smart’ is what posh people say to describe something that is upmarket (like a smart restaurant). When I’m with my posh friends, I dare not use the word ‘posh’ – it carries a certain class envy sense of ‘from the outside looking in’.

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