Written by   (author of Obvious Conclusions)  |  Date Updated: February 13, 2020

know-it-allAre you a know-it-all?  If so, I have one piece of information that you do not know:  You annoy everybody!

There are two kinds of know-it-alls:  know-it-alls who know nothing and know-it-alls who actually do know almost everything.  I am not sure which is more annoying.

Know-it-alls who know nothing have something very mysterious:  a self-confidence derived from…nothing.

I am sure that you have a know-it-all who knows nothing in your life.  Probably, you have one in your family.  When you are riding to your family Christmas party and you say to your spouse, “Honey, please don’t let get me stuck talking to {insert name here}.  He goes on and on about nothing.”   That’s the one.

I wonder about the evolution of this type of know-it-all.  How does one arrive at the point where they think they know everything but actually know nothing?

Did they receive one of those educations that did not permit grades or assessments?  A place where they tell all the students “that was wonderful” even though it was truly horrendous?  Is this how they received their misplaced sense of self?

We have one of these types of know-it-alls in my extended family.  After one holiday party, in which he talked incessantly about nonsense, my father said to me:  “Remember son, God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we could listen twice as much as we talk.”

Am I worried about this particular relative reading about himself here?  No.  For two reasons.  One, by definition a know-it-all would not read this page.  Why read if you already know everything?  And two, know-it-alls all share a common characteristic:  They are acutely unaware that they are know-it-alls.

I like to encourage the know-it-alls who know nothing.  I like to keep them talking.  I do this for the benefit of people who have not yet discovered the subterfuge, for the people who have not yet realized that the know-it-all in question knows nothing.  Plus, it’s fun.

The know-it-all will say something so definitive (know-it-alls always speak definitively) but patently untrue like “DNA testing is a complete fabrication.  It’s just made up to convict people of crimes like in the OJ case.”

Then I like to chime in with something such as, “Oh my gosh.  I had no idea.  Then, all of the scientific community is lying to us?”

Know-it-alls who know nothing are a comic sideshow in our world.  They spread their stupidity and, quite amazingly, often attract an audience.

Their brethren however, the know-it-alls who do know almost everything, are a mystery, nuisance, and a challenge to me.

These two types of know-it-alls share many of the same, annoying characteristics:  endless talkers, lousy listeners, a pompous air about them.  The main difference is that the second group is smart.

I encountered one of these know-it-alls at a party recently.  Thinking he was in the first category of know-it-alls, I waited to throw in a line to expose him.  And waited.

Everything he said was either too deep for me–what do I know about Tax Dodge Derivatives?— or sounded reasonable enough to be true.

I don’t understand these types of know it alls.  I only see them talking.  When are they using their two ears?  You simply cannot know all of this if you are always talking.

I had to get to the bottom of this mystery.  So I spied.  I spied on the know-it-all who seemed to know everything.  One morning I caught him rounding a corner towards the local coffee shop.  I had a delicious feeling because I knew what he was doing and he didn’t know that he was being watched.  Take that know-it-all.

He ordered a coffee and proceeded to a table outside where the sun was shining.  The know-it-all was having a moment…and he wasn’t talking.  This was his secret knowledge gathering place.  He looked like someone that would be enjoyable to talk to, someone who you could have a lazy, interesting conversation with about pseudo-important things.  Could this be true?

I contrived a situation to verify this.  I secretly crossed the street and wandered up the sidewalk where I would pass by him.  Once there, I saw that he was reading the book Freakonomics and I made a passing comment like, “Oh, I enjoyed that book.”

He cordially responded, we began a conversation, and he invited me to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee.  I acquiesced eager to learn that maybe I was wrong, maybe he wasn’t a know-it-all after all.  Perhaps he was just being like that at the party.

I sat down with my cup of coffee and then he asked, “So, what did you like about Freakonomics?”

Before I uttered two words, he was off and running, “…because I’ll tell you why this book is wrong…”

After 1 hour of listening, I remembered again the one thing that all know-it-alls know nothing about.

They are simply annoying people!

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Richard Cummings

Richard Cummings is a writer, traveler, and web content developer.

Get your copy of his latest book entitled Obvious Conclusions, stories of a Midwestern emigrant influenced and corrupted by many years living in San Francisco and abroad. It just received its first outstanding review "...reminiscent of David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs" on Amazon UK.
Richard Cummings
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Comments 6

  1. Ms. SP

    I’m cringing as I recognize my old self in your second description. I used to think that I was sooooo smart. Luckily, life has been gracious enough to slap me down from the delusion.

    Today, I’m still very interested in learning and investigating stuff I do not know, but I’d like to think that I now use my knowledge for good more than I do for evil.

    For example, I can usually carry on a conversation with almost everyone I meet, but I make sure I ask a lot of questions and let them talk about their favorite subjects. I find that things work out much better this way. : )

    Still, I’m certain that my annoyance factor is still there. Do I get some points for recognizing this fact?

    Ms. Smarty Pants

  2. Richard

    Ms. SP, self-awareness earns massive points 🙂 Since know-it-alls do not know that they are know-it-alls, you simply cannot be one…even though the title of your blog may imply otherwise 🙂

  3. a. friend


    Don’t you remember Erasmus: Ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise. Thats how I live my life. Doesnt jibe well with the “unexamined life is not worth living.”

    Do you know if you are gong to DMB at Alpine? That’s all I need to know. As my wife tells me, I’m on a need to know basis.

  4. Nikhil

    You cant say anyone either knows nothing or knows everything. In relative terms, a person who is fairly well informed appears to know everything compared to an ignorant person.
    The entire concept of a so-called ‘know-it-all’ has been created by the ignorant because they are jealous that they are less informed, and instead of acquainting themselves with some general ideas, they are just stupid and call the well-informed ‘know-it-all’s’.

    Undoubtedly upon reading this most of you will think i am a know-it-all. I’m proud of it. 🙂

  5. Sonny

    I used to work with a “know-it-all” who knew NOTHING!

    It didn’t matter what conversation we were having, this guy would jump in with what he thought he knew about what ever subject we were talking about.

    I work out and a new guy that started at the company asked me about lifting weights and fitness and the “know-it-all” jumped in and started giving this kid fitness and nutrition tips when he himself had a massive gut!

    My parents are from India and somebody asked me a question about Sikhism and again this moron jumps in and starts explaining something which was completely false.

    I’m so glad that I don’t have to deal with him anymore.

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