Swarmy vs. Smarmy

For my entire life, I always thought someone like a car salesman is called “swarmy.” But today I was corrected. It’s “smarmy.” That just sounds wrong.

Update (5/14/2023)

Where does the word “smarmy” come from? Let’s look at the etymology. The entry for “smarmy” on Etymonline says:

1909, “smooth and sleek;” 1924, “ingratiating, unctuous;” from smarm + -y (2). Related: Smarmilysmarminess.

Smooth and sleek? That’s rather odd. Let’s see if there is more clarification under the entry for “smarm“:

1914, from colloquial verb smalmsmarm “to smear, bedaub” (the hair, with pomade), 1847, of unknown origin, perhaps somehow suggestive of the action. Verbal meaning “to smear with flattery” is from 1902.

Ahhh, “to smear with flattery”. Now that makes more sense. From now on, I’ll think of smarmy as to smear.

It’s interesting to note that the evolution of “smarm” and “smarmy” seems to reflect a broader shift in language and culture. The use of flattery and smooth-talking to gain advantage or favor has likely been around for as long as humans have interacted with one another, but the rise of mass media in the 20th century may have given the phenomenon new prominence. With politicians, advertisers, and other public figures using language to manipulate and persuade, it’s no wonder that we have words like “smarmy” to describe their tactics.

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laura k.
laura k.
19 years ago

is a car salesman a pack of bees? then he’d be swarmy.

Tom Saaristo
19 years ago

Swarmy? What does that mean? Smarmy is the word Swarthy is a good word too. Ever heard that one?

Donna
Donna
13 years ago

Swarmy is an unscrupulous person. Smarmy is an smug obnoxious person Swarthy is a dark skinned person

Carl VanDyke
Carl VanDyke
8 years ago

Swarthmy is a dark skinned person who is either smarmy or swarmy.

I always thought the word was swarmy until today.

Mel
Mel
7 years ago

It’s always been swarmy for me. (Pronounced sch-warmey actually like schmuck sound to indicate the distaste with which you have for the arrogant smile of the git!). It is in Scotland at least…

Sharon Williamson
Sharon Williamson
5 years ago

And fourteen years later, people are still making this vocabular discovery. Thank you Garden of Words!

Julie
Julie
9 months ago

I AGREE 100%. This has to be a mandela effect.

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