'Smart' BE/AmE usage

moo mouse

Senior Member
English UK
Quote:
Originally Posted by moo mouse
Being a Brit and living in London I would agree that 'sir' and 'madam' are not commonly used to a stanger in the street, or socially, even in deference to older people (I call my boyfriend's dad Mr Newman, never 'sir'). But you definitely would hear it in smart department stores like Harrods or Selfridges where the shop assistants are smarmy and ingratiating, and have been trained to say 'Can I help you, sir/madam?' or in really smart/expensive restaurants where you might hear 'And would madam like any vegetables with that?' (in place of 'and would you...?').

Posted by gomie2003:
What do you mean by "smart" here? Surely you don't mean "intelligent"? There must be some other meaning that I am unaware of...
I am perplexed that gomie2003 (an American) did not understand my usage of the word 'smart'. Would Americans not understand if I said: 'You're looking very smart today' or 'What a smart umbrella/car!'?
 
  • born in newyork

    Senior Member
    U.S.A./English
    This meaning of smart is simply not used in America.

    Any American who reads British literature/watches British television/etc. would understand it. But, that is only a small percentage of the population, I'm afraid.
     

    liliput

    Senior Member
    U.K. English
    I'm surprised too. In the UK we don't use the term "smart" to mean "intelligent" very often but I'm pretty sure everyone understands it. So do people in America just say "elegant" if someone looks (BE) smart?
     

    Joelline

    Senior Member
    American English
    It's another way that we are separated by our common language! We say "elegant" and you say "smart"; you say "intelligent" and we say "smart." But I am surprised that an AE speaker would not understand your usage, and I'd be surprised that a BE speaker would not understand our usage. Now the BE use of "brilliant" is an entirely different matter!
     

    dobes

    Senior Member
    US English(Boston/NY)
    i think we would say 'stylish' or 'fashionable' as well as elegant. I have always known about that BE use of the word 'smart'. But I didn't know that the British use the word 'clever' to mean intelligent. To me, of course it means intelligent, but with a connotation of 'tricky' or 'deceitful' -- it wouldn't be entirely a compliment to be called clever.
     

    liliput

    Senior Member
    U.K. English
    i think we would say 'stylish' or 'fashionable' as well as elegant. I have always known about that BE use of the word 'smart'. But I didn't know that the British use the word 'clever' to mean intelligent. To me, of course it means intelligent, but with a connotation of 'tricky' or 'deceitful' -- it wouldn't be entirely a compliment to be called clever.
    In BE we use all these words, I'm just surprised "smart" only has one meaning in AE.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    It doesn't have just one meaning:

    I got sunburned, and boy does it smart!

    I have had enough of your insolence and I don't want to hear any more smart answers from you, young man.

    I asked a co-worker if she had ever heard the phrase "smart shops". She replied that she had, but that it sounded "British" to her.
     

    Musical Chairs

    Senior Member
    Japan & US, Japanese & English
    Hmm...I would get it, but maybe because they use "smart" in Japanese sort of like that too. Like if someone calls you "sumato", that means you're thin / nice looking.
     

    liliput

    Senior Member
    U.K. English
    It doesn't have just one meaning:

    I got sunburned, and boy does it smart!

    I have had enough of your insolence and I don't want to hear any more smart answers from you, young man.

    I asked a co-worker if she had ever heard the phrase "smart shops". She replied that she had, but that it sounded "British" to her.
    Ah yes! It also means "to hurt" in AE.
    I would argue that "smart" in your second sentence also means "clever" and is therefore not an additional meaning. We use smart in this way too - someone who gives such answers would be considered a "smart-Alec" or "smart-arse".
     

    Musical Chairs

    Senior Member
    Japan & US, Japanese & English
    "Smart-ass" is a slang term for people like this.

    A "smarty-pants" is someone who shows off how smart they (think they) are, or comes off that way to other people.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    I would argue that "smart" in your second sentence also means "clever" and is therefore not an additional meaning. We use smart in this way too - someone who gives such answers would be considered a "smart-Alec" or "smart-arse".
    In AE, "clever" means intelligent, insightful, and creative, and is always a compliment. In the second sentence I gave, though, the word "smart" had nothing to do with intelligence at all; the smart answer could have been deliberately foolish. Instead, it meant "impudent" or "fresh" or "sarcastic" or "insolent". It should also be noted that a synonym for "smart" used in this way is "wise", as in "wise guy": Don't you get wise with me, sonny!
     

    liliput

    Senior Member
    U.K. English
    In AE, "clever" means intelligent, insightful, and creative, and is always a compliment. In the second sentence I gave, though, the word "smart" had nothing to do with intelligence at all; the smart answer could have been deliberately foolish. Instead, it meant "impudent" or "fresh" or "sarcastic" or "insolent". It should also be noted that a synonym for "smart" used in this way is "wise", as in "wise guy": Don't you get wise with me, sonny!
    But as dobes pointed out, being called clever might not be entirely complimentary. A child who comes up sarcastic quips or impudent comments, especially witty ones, probably is quite intelligent. I have seen clever used in exactly the same way as you use wise: "Don't get clever with me sonny!"
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    But as dobes pointed out, being called clever might not be entirely complimentary.
    Except that we are speaking of the difference between AE and BE usage. In AE, it would be complimentary.

    A child who comes up sarcastic quips or impudent comments, especially witty ones, probably is quite intelligent. I have seen clever used in exactly the same way as you use wise: "Don't get clever with me sonny!"
    And again, this is a difference between BE and AE usage. In AE, one would frequently hear "smart" or "wise" being used this way, but "clever" would not be used like this any more than "intelligent" would. I certainly have never heard any AE speaker use "clever" in this manner.

    On the other hand, one might use "clever" ironically in the same way that one might use "smart" or "intelligent" ironically: For example, suppose I turn on the garden hose not noticing which way the nozzle is turned, and get soaked. I might say "Well, that wasn't very clever!" in the same way I might say "That wasn't very smart!' or "That wasn't very intelligent!" I would not, however, use "wise" in this way.
     

    dobes

    Senior Member
    US English(Boston/NY)
    I disagree that in AE it's always complimentary. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it's a bit left-handed. "Too clever for your own good" and "clever like a fox" -- it can have undertones of sneaky, deceitful, or superficial.
     

    liliput

    Senior Member
    U.K. English
    Originally Posted by liliput
    But as dobes pointed out, being called clever might not be entirely complimentary.

    Except that we are speaking of the difference between AE and BE usage. In AE, it would be complimentary.
    But dobes is an AE speaker!
     

    AWordLover

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Hi All,
    I'm an AE speaker too. I agree with dobes that clever is not always complimentary.

    He's too clever by half. (Similar to, "too smart for his own good"). Clever can have the connotation of tricky. A clever solution, may be the result of intelligent and insightful thought. On the other hand, clever might describe an overcomplicated kludge. The distinction is somewhat like the difference between wisdom and intellegence, even very intellegent people can lack the wisdom to create a simple but effective solution.

    I also use the BE usage of smart to mean fashionable (in addition to the AE ones).
    You look good, that's a very smart outfit you've got on.
     

    floise

    Senior Member
    U.S.;English
    The word smart has come into Québec French as 'smatte', but with some different meanings than in Am. or Br. English. One will say about a person 'elle est smatte', meaning someone one thinks well of, who is nice, who is generous towards others. One can also use 'smatte' to mean 'smarty pants', as in "Il est un vrai smatte" (he's a real smarty pants / wiseguy).

    The Br./Am. meaning difference caused confusion in my family a few years ago. My daughter was about to go to Scotland to work at an upscale bed and breakfast establishment, and she received a letter from the owner telling her what to bring in terms of clothing, etc. She was told to bring a pair of 'smart' black shoes. I told her that meant a fancy, dress-up pair of black shoes, and my sister interpreted it as meaning a sensible pair of shoes. Quite a different interpretation from mine. Well, I guess we tried to find a pair that was a compromise between these two meanings. My daughter never did get reprimanded for the shoes she wore!

    Floise
     

    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Here on the west coast of Canada, the word "smart" would not be looked at askance if used to mean "spiffy". To say that one looks very smart today would raise no eyebrows. This is likely a holdover from our BE tendencies. On the other hand, as in AE, the use of the word "clever" has a connotation of being slightly sly. If one is smart or intelligent, that's a good thing - if one is described as "clever", you might actually be smart but are known to use your brains in an underhanded or devious manner.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    This meaning of smart is simply not used in America.
    I am no longer astonished at such statements. It is not uncommon in this forum for an American to
    make such a blanket statement, because they personally are not used to a specific usage.

    I grew up, some decades ago, hearing and using the word smart to mean stylish, good-looking, attractive. It's use has declined, but it is not unknown among some AE speakers. I would classify
    it as an infrequently used term in AE. I strongly dispute the assertion that it "is simply not used in America".

    Meanings given in the Random House Unabridged:

    - dashingly or impressively neat or trim in appearance, as persons, dress, etc.
    - socially elegant; sophisticated or fashionable: the smart crowd.

    WordReference/WordNet:

    3 dapper, dashing, jaunty, natty, raffish, rakish, smart, spiffy, snappy, spruce

    marked by smartness in dress and manners;


    Non-existent citations?:
    Results 1 - 20 of about 178,000 for "smartly dressed" -site:.uk -site:.au.
     

    jennball

    Senior Member
    USA English
    A generation ago, I think 'smart' was used to describe a person's appearance in American English, too. I never heard it much, but I remember reading now and then that someone was 'smartly dressed' or 'looked smart'.
     

    moo mouse

    Senior Member
    English UK
    All very interesting indeed. I felt sure that this usage of smart was not entirely unknown in the US and it seems that it has more or less slipped out of usage now (except in Canada). What on earth is a kludge though (used by AWordLover)?
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    Clever in general usage in BE means intelligent,skilled, etc. however in a few instances it means "impudent", but the context and tone of voice make it very clear which is meant. I think this is rather similar to "smart" in AE. The phrase "too clever by half" (and variants) has been mentioned, but note that this refers to being too clever, not merely being clever. An excess of even a positive attribute can been seen as a bad thing.

    Smart is understood in Britain as being equivalent to clever because of the exposure to US media. We are exposed to a staggering amount of it, and have been for many, many years. We see a lot more of their stuff than they do of ours.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top