28 thoughts on “The Smirk

  1. I picture a condescending, snotty expression a family member often made.

    It’s funny how some words just rub some Irene the wrong way. For me, it’s when characters are “munching” food. Ugh…

    1. I once caught an in law talking to my back and turned around quick to answer him only to see a full on smirk. Momentarily stunned I stared at him as he slowly rearranged his face. Eyes to the wise.

      When the heroine “nibbles” a few bites of a sandwich drives me crazy.

      Is an Irene the same as a Karen?

    2. I’ve gone off the word “bite”, at least in sentences like “she looked at the plate of food in front of her and took a bite.” I keep mentally screaming “a bite of what?”

  2. I fear it’s a lost cause – the expression is well on its way to change it’s meaning.

    I’ve come across so many instances lately of “smirk” used for “grin”, “smile cheekily” or “grin with good humour” and it never troubled me (I’m not a mother tongue).
    The stories were mostly written by otherwise very competent writers and it definitely didn’t mean smirk in it’s original sense when they use it. I’ve looked the word up in some online dictionaries (English-German): the original meaning often isn’t even listed anymore, so we foreigners might add to the change happening.

    When googling or using Ecosia, in many pics the smirk resembles a grin/cheeky smile and only the context makes it easier to discern that it’s not.

    After learning here what smirk really means, it catapults me out of the story every time, yet I have consciously decided that I will not hold a grudge but see it as a sad evidence of the ever changing nature of language. I do understand though why lovers of language want to keep fighting.

    Tidbit: while listening Heyer’s Quiet Gentleman it does give me a start every time when the stepmother of Gervais “ejaculates” a phrase (mostly of nonsense). Or when she points out e.g. that her late husband was “intimate with Mister so-and-so”, meaning he was good friends with xy. I see that it’s a nice way to characterize the stepmother (rather old-fashioned and pompous), but the words must have had a more innocent meaning once, too.

    1. Sorry, by the way, for the misplaced apostrophes. I should remember to check before hit “comment”.

    2. As a high school teacher who occasionally teaches a short story in which a character “ejaculates” in the older sense of the word (I think it’s from the gothic unit, maybe “The Most Dangerous Game”?), the footnotes and I tell the students its original meaning (to burst out/interrupt) but always tell them to go ahead and laugh about it for a minute anyway.

      “Intimate with” as close friendship is up there with “intercourse” as interaction/conversation– both come up on some short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Come to think of it, “ejaculates” might be in that one too!

      1. The one that always cracked my students up was calling rain boots “rubbers.”

  3. In movie reviews I often read wriiters who described Bruce Willis as someone who smirked. And I guess it’s that his facial structure that lends itself to the expression.

    1. I miss when Bruce Willis had more expression and liveliness (i.e. Moonlighting) instead of being Grumpy Old Man in literally everything since Moonlighting.

      1. Well he did Hudson Hawk, I quite enjoyed the ridiculousness, but it got panned by critics. People get typecast, like when Liam Neeson did Taken and now action is probably the majority of his work

  4. I realize that “smirk” is a triggering word for Jenny, and that she always slams a book shut when she sees it and can’t read another word, but I think there’s a lot of context in the mix that makes it an ambiguous, rather than a one-dimensional word.

    When someone with a thin smile, and maybe one raised eyebrow, looks expressively at another person, it can mean “that’s typical of you, you loser!” if the smirking person is a teenage clique leader and the person they’re looking at is someone in an embarrassing moment, or somebody of lower group status. But the expressiveness may be directed towards that lower-status person only, or towards an audience of cronies, giving the whole silent tableau two possible underlying scenarios, both of which are more like “sneer” than “smirk.” The one with the smile is expressing disdain or disgust with the smile, and in cases like that, I’m with Jenny — the person is clearly somebody I wouldn’t like and don’t want to identify with.

    But the same expressive small smile can happen between two friends or lovers, and can signify recognition of a joke between them, or maybe confirmation of a correct guess on either person’s part — it’s a physical expression, but not a sneer at all. It’s saying “see, you were/I was right all along!” or just satisfaction about something that others might not recognize but the right person definitely would.

    The fact that Lois Bujold uses it in the latter way has reconciled me in a big way to the word, and to that latter meaning. If the Edwardian cherub in your illustration above were smiling a bit more, with crinkly eyes, I wouldn’t see it as smirking, I would see it as flirting, which is a whole different kettle of fishiness. 🙂

    1. “The fact that Lois Bujold uses it in the latter way has reconciled me in a big way to the word, and to that latter meaning.” Me too!

      When Lois had a character smirk in The Assassins of Thasalon, I was not thrown from the story, though I did note that Jenny’s trigger-word was in a Bujold story. Again.

  5. Theory: there are 2 smirks. One is “I feel superior to you in this one area where I am currently winning” and one is “I am currently winning in one area and thus feel superior to you in all areas.”

    First smirk I will allow, and even write, in the right context. (Say, Hardison in Leverage smoking Chaos in a tech battle). Second one is like Jenny says: a thing only unlikable people who think they are better than others do.

  6. I don’t really find this girl smirky, she doesn’t have enough edge in all that bucolic-yness to really do it. The smirk has an edge to it at the corner of your mouth, a hint of amusement rather than pleasantness.

    I have no issues with the word smirk, but “high handed” (as in “Oh, that billionaire surprise bought me tickets to go to Insanely Rich Isle! The NERVE! He’s so high handed!”) makes me want to chuck a book across the room. I know that’s more of a historical romance Thing, I know people love that Fae series by Karen Marie Morning (I think that was the series), but I chucked the book when a modern day guy was described as “high handed.” Oh, FFS.

  7. I don’t like characters who smirk. True, Bujold’s characters smirk a lot — and when they do, I judge them as arrogant or completely ignorant or assuming a caste system in which they place highly or something along those lines.

    I think other authors’ works I’ve read don’t know the definition of smirk, which Bujold does. It became a popular verb and has lost a lot of its meaning, leaving the reader with less to go on. Remember a teacher who had lists of words never to use? The verb “to get,” the pronoun “I,” the phrase “you know”? I’m sure “to smirk” is on somebody’s list somewhere.

  8. I loathe any character who smirks, indicating they’re enjoying someone’s pain, or discomfort. I don’t often run into people in real life who smirk, though I know others who have/do. But if it’s the villain that doesn’t throw me out of a story at all. But if it’s a character who’s supposed to be one of heroes of a story I immediately start rooting against them, and in a romance I immediately start rooting for the other romantic lead to dump them, which kind of ruins the romance obviously.

  9. ” (Also google images for “smirk.” It’s interesting.)”

    Indeed it was. I had never realized that the Mona Lisa was smirking. The range of smirking was astonishing, from just the barest hint to some devilish sniles. (A snile is a cross betwixt sneer and smile.)

    BUT! When it comes to the ritton werd, I must allow context to determine which of the possible smirks is on offer.

  10. Our Australian PM, Scott Morrison, smirks. It is a smug expression implying inherent superiority. Google ‘Scott Morrison smirk’ and you will discover that millions of other people have googled it before you. I loathe smirkers.

    1. You beat me to it! One of his Twitter nicknames is Smirko. It is NEVER used in a complimentary way.

  11. Somehow this ended up in the wrong post, so I am trying again…should make sense this time. I hope.

    See, I wouldn’t have called that a smirk but rather a simper. She‘s too coquettish for a smirk.

    For me a smirk is edgier, perhaps eyes a bit narrowed and one corner of the lips raised.

    Oh,. And FWIW, this is the smirk emoji: 😏

  12. A lot of those are…not smirks?

    The problem with the changing definition of smirk is that then what other word could you use to describe a smirk? It was so efficient. ‘Smug, conceited-ass irritating mouth twist that isn’t a real smile’ is so inelegant.

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