a smart-ass teenager


Senior Member
Hello everyone,

From the book Thank You for Being Late by Thomas Friedman.

More than once my dad told me he made one dollar a day working there, most of which he saved for his family, and that he could only afford to buy a loaf of bread to eat—“and I can still feel it stuck in my throat,” he would say. Every so often, when we would pass that intersection, I would say, as only a smart-ass teenager could, “I know, I know, you can still feel that loaf of bread stuck in your throat.” He never forgot it, but neither did I. Fortunately my daughters will never know such a feeling.

Smart ass definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary

If you describe someone as a smart ass, you dislike the fact that they think they are very clever and like to show everyone this.
[informal, vulgar, disapproval]
...smart-ass comments.

Does "smart ass teenager" really have so negative connotation here?

Thank you.
  • dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    Negative connotation? Yes. Any phrase with "ass" in it is negative. "Ass" is an insulting term for a person, either by itself or in a hyphenated phrase.

    In AE "smart-ass" (also called "smart-mouthed") is a person who speaks rudely. It is not simply "acting clever". It is speaking in a disrespectful way to someone superior: someone you should speak politely to, like a teacher or a policeman.

    In this example, the teen-ager is speaking to their father in a disrespectful way.

    A person who shows off their knowledge is a "mister smarty-pants" or a "know-it-all". They only become a "smart-ass" when their speech is inappropriate.


    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Note that he is describing himself as a smart ass. He is criticizing his younger self, but only mildly. What he's saying in this context is:

    I would say, as only a smart-ass teenager (a teenager who thinks he's being funny more than disrespectful) could, “I know, I know, you can still feel that loaf of bread stuck in your throat.”

    The point is that he wasn't purposely being disrespectful for the sake of being disrespectful. He thought he was being funny and that justified whatever disrespect happened to be a consequence. To a smart ass, being funny is the most important thing.
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    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Agreed, Kentix. I wonder how his father reacted: I'm a mother, not a father, but I would have been seriously disappointed if a child of mine did not realise the sacrifices I had made so that he could have a future and make a joke about it.
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