People who are smug suffer from a superiority complex. Smugness is the conviction that you’re just a little bit better than other people. This would be arrogance if it wasn’t also mixed with a pinch of humility. Smug people know they’re better and the fact that they’re also humble about it makes them even better still. No wonder they’ve got that annoying little smile.
Smug people have a way of looking down on you even when they’re considerably shorter. Certain clothes are an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible smugness. For example polo-neck jumpers are virtually the uniform of the smug. It’s a way of saying to people, ‘I’m rather cosy’.
The word smug is basically an elision of smiling and snug. It’s beautifully onomatopoeic as opposed to onomatopoeic itself which of course isn’t. But you do feel smug when you’ve said onomatopoeic so maybe there’s some reciprocal justice there.
Lots of things lead to smugness. Having a house which has gained more value than your annual salary gives you big smug points. A famous child allows you to retire in an absolute fog of smugness. Generally being well insured against everything allows smugness to break out even at moments of extreme crisis, especially for other people.
You don’t have to be rich to be smug but it does allow you to communicate your superiority in more obvious ways. Smug rich people are the proverbial Jones’s up with whom insecure people think they must keep. Moral superiority also makes for industrial strength smugness. It’s a way of saying that you already have reserved seating for the next life, probably quite close to the front.
In company, smug people always give the impression that they’re hugging themselves or giving themselves a little squeeze in a pleasurable area. It’s a lovely irony that the smug are notoriously rubbish in bed. When you’re starting point is complete self-satisfaction, there’s not much motivation for further satisfying yourself or anyone else for that matter.
Smugness, like ragwort, is incredibly difficult to get rid of once it has taken root. The hot bath of achievement may have long disappeared down the plug hole of life but the scum line of smugness will last until it’s scoured off by the brillo of ridicule.
In conversation smugness comes out in two ways: you can be rather patronising about other people to highlight how comfortable you are; or you can be incredibly solicitous of other people, which is a subtle way of highlighting how uncomfortable they are.