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I was telling my math class the story about how Gauss added up the numbers from one to a hundred when he was in first grade. I told them that when he put his slate on the teacher's desk face down, the teacher thought he was some kind of smart alec. And then I told my class that the Germans have very picturesque words for a lot of things, and they probably have a nice expression for "smart alec". And now I can't think of one. Can anyone help?

EDIT: As a matter of secondary interest, my Yiddish correspondents have offered me the very colorful "khokhem", lit. "wise man" from the Hebrew khakham. (A Karaite rabbi is a khakham.) A variant is "khokhmah", as for example if a child learns to make a loud slurping noise when drinking with a straw, his mother might say he's got a new "khokhmah". As far as I can see none of the German expressions would have had much currency in spoken Yiddish, although they would of course have all been understood by any Yiddish speaker.

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2 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Initially I would think that you could look this up, but there are different connotations depending on how "smart alec(k)" is intended.

In the case of a "know-it-all" or "smartypants" being more about attitude, which best fits in your example, you'd probably use something like Besserwisser, Schlauberger, Schlaumeier, Schlaukopf, Klugscheisser, usw.

In the case of a prankster or joker and performing an act of some kind, you'd probably use something like Spassvogel, Witzbold, Schlingel, Schelm, Till Eulenspiegel (old literary figure), usw.

There are a number of colloquial and regional examples and probably other ones that teens use, but these are well-known for a basic definition.

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some translations of "smart alec"

most common:

Klugscheißer (verbatim: smart-shitter)

A person who produces smart things as easily as other people produce shit or crap.

very common:

Besserwisser (verbatim: better-knower)

A person who knows everything better

Schlaumeier (verbatim: smart-manciple)

"Meier" is a very common last name in Germany (like "Smith", "Johnson", "Williams" in USA), but the original meaning of "Meier" is almost forgotten. "Meier" is the name of an extinct profession. A Meier was the caretaker and disposer of a farm or acres. An english manciple is not exactly the same as a german Meier, but it is close to it.

less common:

Schlauberger (verbatim: smart-???)

"Berger" is like "Meier" a common last name in Germany. Some say it comes from "a person who is living on a mountain (mountain = Berg), some others say it comes from another extinct profession, a person who collects scrap.

Neunmalklug (verbatim: nine times smart)
Siebengescheit (verbatim: seven times smart)

A Person who is 7- or 9-times smarter than other people.

Schlaukopf (verbatim: smart-head)

A Person with a smart head.

Naseweis (verbatim: prudent-nose; NOT white-nose!)

Only used for pert children who knows much. Originally a person that has a prudent/sapient good nose.

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One could add that while Klugscheißer refers more to someone who brags with knowledge, Besserwisser and Neunmalklug refer more to people correcting others without being asked to do so. Schlaumeier is often used ironically, when somebody did something stupid while displaying confidence in doing something smart. –  miura Oct 10 '12 at 8:58
    
Nice observations on the nuances, Miura. –  Marty Green Oct 10 '12 at 13:50
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