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Arlow, J.A. (1957). On Smugness. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 38:1-8.

(1957). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 38:1-8

On Smugness

Jacob A. Arlow, M.D.

Some degree of negative response is practically the universal reaction to smug people. To be characterized as smug is never considered a compliment. Such a characterization invariably denotes not only a sense of disapproval but a feeling of active dislike or hostility.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the origin of the word 'smug' is obscure. Originally, its meaning related to neatness or primness in dress. Only during the past few centuries have the current connotations of offensive self-satisfaction, complacency, and self-righteousness become associated with the word. There is, furthermore, an additional, although hardly popular, sense in which the word appears in the literature, i.e., to steal or to grasp, a meaning which some think may be connected with the root of the word 'to smuggle'. In the course of this paper it will be demonstrated how these two very different meanings may be derived from a response to a typical situation in which the prototype of the smug person is regarded as a grasping thief.

The smug person is not actively aggressive or malicious toward others in his smugness. If anything, he tends to be withdrawn and self-contained, undemanding in regard to his environment, and above all, seeming to want or need very little from it. Why so complacently self-satisfied a person should evoke such hostility is not completely clear.

In the course of psycho-analytic practice, however, it is not uncommon to observe patients in whom a most intense hostility and violent hatred are provoked by an encounter with a smug person.

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