Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Smarmy or Unctuousness
Once when I was talking to a colleague about a professor at another school the colleague said "he is really unctuous." I had to look it up. I knew smarmy and knew it was not swami but did not realize unctuous was high class smarm or as a Facebook commentator explains -- people who say unctuous scored higher on their SATs.
I guess they both mean oily for the purpose of endearing yourself to someone else. Man have I seen smarm is my business! For example, there was a jerk on the faculty who is pretty darn nasty, monopolizes faculty meetings, etc. Then one day I say him teaching and he was like Dr. Phil (the epidome of smarmy). It's like he has a Smarm switch attached to his side. He was Mr. All Care and Understanding.
There are so many kinds of smarm. One that is quite prevalent is law school name dropping. "Now when I was in Harvard." I much prefer a colleague who says, "While is was doing time in State prison." That is not smarmy. Related is "When I was Editor of the Law Review." Of course there were 37 editors of the law review.
Smarm is pervasive in email but it depends on the email. An email to just one person, it is said, often reveals the worst side of a person. For me it is the opposite. I reveals the best. The problem is that the best is not so good. Mass email is like a Facebook posting. Then you write in the way you want to be perceived (smarm) So, as a friend tells me, neither form of communication is the real you. I'll gladly take a little nastiness over a stomach turning smarmfest.
One of the smarmiest moves goes like this. You see someone in the distance who would like to impress. Your brain goes into high speed smarm gear. You need to say something. So out it comes: "Hey, I was just thinking about you because I was just talking to [name drop] about your wonderful last article."
One version of smarm I call "know one thing." This is a good one for deans or others who know everyone's name like you just mated the night before. But the key here is to remember one thing. For example, let's suppose Smarmy Phil meets Jane and for 2 minutes they mentioned how much they love La Traviata (expectially the Bob Marley version). Even though they have talked about 37 things since then, the conversation always begins with "Jane, how is your collection of La Traviata coming along." Now the truth is that Phil knows nothing about La Traviata, least of all the Bob Marley version, but he thinks Jane is stupid enough to think because he remembers that 2 minutes he is her best bud.
I prefer smarm on rye toast with just a little Tabasco.