Tuesday, October 24, 2006


One might wonder at the origin of the term Smart Alec. I can’t speak to the specific reasoning behind that term nor do I know the identity of the particularly sarcastic man (or boy) who earned himself this nickname. However, I believe it’s safe to say that it was, in fact, a male member of the human species and not a representative of the fairer sex.

My brother-in-law, Mike, went on a hunting trip recently, so my wife’s sister came to stay with us for the night with her two children. We had a very pleasant visit, but that’s completely unrelated to the topic at hand. (Sorry.) Mike called to check in with his wife while she was staying with us, and in the "goodbye" phase of the conversation, my wife’s sister said, "Be careful." Mike’s reply, in classic Smart Alec form, was, "Don’t worry. I took the deer’s skin and draped it over my shoulders and placed the head on top of my hat." When my wife’s sister recounted this to us, my wife rolled her eyes along with her sister, and the two of them laughed at Mike’s Devil-may-care attitude.

As I reflected on this, I came to the conclusion that Smart Alec-hood is man’s defense against going criminally insane. This stems from the dawn of time. Picture Eve handing the tempting apple to Adam and just when he’s about to chomp down on the luscious fruit, she says instinctually, "Be careful." Caught off guard, Adam bites his lip and starts bleeding. "How’d she know that was going to happen?" he muses. From then on, men have been trying to stay one step ahead of "be careful", and sarcasm is the most effective mental diversion.

Speaking on behalf of the men in this world, the need to admonish us occasionally and remind us to keep safety in mind is well deserved in a lot of cases. Were it not for the general stupidity of the male gender throughout the ages, we wouldn’t have guys trying to take a kayak over a 200-foot waterfall "to see if he can." Come on. Who was the first person to climb Mt. Everest? A man. Why? Because it was there! Who was the first person to sail around the world when the general consensus was that the ship and its crew would most likely fall off the edge and plummet to their deaths? A man. This isn’t one of those "hey look how much cooler we are, and by the way, we can pee standing up and write our names in the snow" kinds of rants. It’s intended to demonstrate that men throughout history haven’t exactly done a great deal to prove they’re careful. So, from birth, females are hardwired to look out for the males of the species.

Now, back to combating the possible onset of criminal insanity: because of this hardwiring, many of us men have loving wives, girlfriends (not at the same time, of course), mothers, etc. who tell us to "be careful" regardless of the circumstances. When I’m departing for a business trip, I get the "be careful" just after the peck on the cheek. Men around the world, in similar circumstances, are getting the same directive from the women in their lives. With a constant diet of "be careful" – if we dwelt on it – we would begin to wonder, "Does she know something I don’t? Should I check under the car to see if brake fluid has pooled under it from a severed line?" Instead, we lapse into survival mode and become Smart Alec: "I haven’t had anything to drink; and besides, I won’t be the one flying the plane, honey." Ha ha!

But after the laughter has died and I drive off to the airport, I pump the brakes a couple of times just in case.

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