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He is a wise guy

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Two very similar expressions yet quite opposite connotations. Wise man is an older phrase but wise guy is a newer one. I found two possible connections to wise man. There is the surname Wiseman which is a long-established surname of Anglo-Saxon origin, and derives from the Olde English pre 7th Century "wys", meaning "wise", and "mann", a man, and was originally given as a nickname to a wise and learned man, perhaps one who was regularly consulted by other village inhabitants on matters pertaining to law or business transactions.

Wise men is also mentioned as another name for biblical magi who were, in the Gospel of Matthew and Christian tradition, a group of distinguished foreigners who visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Opposite connotations of the words from thefreedictionary :. Wise man was in Old English. Wise guy is attested from , American English The "wise" in "wise guy" is sarcastic.

The surface meaning of "wise guy" is synonymous to "wise man," but in actual usage "wise guy" ALWAYS refers to someone who is making a sardonic comment, implying that he thinks he is somehow smarter than others. For the same reason that "digital computing" doesn't mean counting on your fingers.

English expressions grow out of usage, not logic or etymology. An etymological explanation might be that the word wise is related to the word wit. So, perhaps the sense of wise as in wise guy , wiseacre , crack wise , etc. In other words, what are now two words are still not perfectly differentiated. Sign up to join this community. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top. Home Questions Tags Users Unanswered.

Asked 5 years, 8 months ago. Active 3 years, 9 months ago. Viewed 9k times. How do these two phrases happen to have different connotations one positive, other negative? Is it possible to find an explanation regarding to their origins?

I've heard "smart cookie" used both straight and sarcastically, but "smart aleck" only sarcastically. Because language is unpredictable. You are not the first to ask this question. Oh, a wise guy, eh? Active Oldest Votes. Thanks for the answer. But how did "wise guy" emerge as a sarcastic usage? Why not "wise man" itself used sarcastically? Is it related to the difference between "man" and "guy" also?

That would be my guess - that the tone of "guy" is dissonant with the whole idea of "wise," and so using the phrase "wise guy" conveys sarcasm. But that seems like a pretty sophisticated research question to me.

And let's not forget the "wise guy" that is another name for a mob thug. The sense is far more recent in Britain. Every 5th November children throw his effigy on bonfires and celebrate with firworks. That will always remain with me the principal association with the word 'guy'. Therefore 'wise guy' would be used more than 'wise man', and thus it would be more susceptible to semantic change.

As 'wise guy' was more and more commonly used sarcastically to imply the opposite, speakers would have no choice but to reach back and use the less colloquial 'wise man' to differentiate. All conjecture, of course. Jay R. More examples along the same lines: "terrific" vs. The Overflow Blog. The Overflow Sharpen your skills. Featured on Meta. Related 5. Hot Network Questions.

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By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Cookie Policy , Privacy Policy , and our Terms of Service. It only takes a minute to sign up. Two very similar expressions yet quite opposite connotations. Wise man is an older phrase but wise guy is a newer one.

To save this word, you'll need to log in. No more wise-guy remarks, got it? Mahony, courant.

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Joe is such a wise guy that it's hard to know when he's being serious. Every class seems to have one disruptive wise guy. 2. A mobster. I wouldn't bother those.

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