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Wise guy and wiseguy

  • Wise guy or wiseguy is an idiom that originated in the United States. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom wise guy or wiseguy where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

     

    Wise guy most often means a smart aleck; someone who makes sarcastic jokes and believes he is witty but others believe he is annoying. The term is also often rendered as wiseguy, with no hyphen. The expression wise guy may also mean a mobster or member of the Mafia. The term wise guy to mean a smart aleck came into use in the later 1800s in North America. The expression wise guy to mean a member of the Mafia came into use in the 1970s.

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    Examples

    Biden told the reporters he had been a “wise guy” in his answer, and expressed regret for having been “short.” (Boston Herald)

    “Don’t be a wise guy about it,” Walsh snapped. (Boston Magazine)

    It was a shore dinner in Maine a decade ago that transformed Robert Gentile, an aging, unremarkable wise guy from Hartford, into the best lead in years in one of the world’s most baffling crime mysteries, the unsolved robbery of half a billion dollars in art from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. (Hartford Courant)


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