A Word for Wednesday

Sciolist - n, [L.sciolus, a diminutive formed on scio, to know] One who knows little, or who knows many things superficially; a smatterer

A smatterer. I like it. It reminds me a saying I heard one. I don't remember who said it or who they were describing, but the description went like this: "A jack of all trades and master of none." Sciolist conveys the same idea, I think, only regarding knowledge instead of skill.

Even though I always use my Webster's 1828 for the posted definition, I like to look the words up in several other places. Reading the variety of ways the same meaning is expressed often helps me get a better understanding of the connotations that are attached to the word. One dictionary put it this way: "a pretender of profound knowledge." I think I'll use that phrase next time I want to describe an arrogant know-it-all. The alliteration makes for a much more interesting sentence, don't you think?

I was able to find a number of works that used sciolist. I didn't recognize a single title or author and, for most of them, the excerpt made no sense whatsoever. I did find two, though, where I could trace the context quickly. The first was from a Classic French Course in English by William Cleaver Wilkinson, in which he discusses how various authorities view Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws. He considers it to be Montesquieu's masterpiece, but goes on to say, "By others, it is dismissed very lightly, as the ambitious, or, rather, pretentious, effort of a superficial man, a showy mere sciolist."

The second was from A Book for All Readers: An Aid to the Collection, Use, and Preservation of Books and the Formation of Public and Private Libraries by Ainsworth Rand Spofford. In this particular passage, Spofford writes about the different kinds of readers who resort to a library, saying, "And among the would-be readers may be found every shade of intelligence, and every degree of ignorance." He continues with a list, first describing the timid reader, and then "the sciolist variety, who knows it all, or imagines that he does, and who asks for proof of impossible facts, with the assurance born of the profoundest ignorance."

What a horrid way to be described, especially if such a description is deserved! A pretentious pretender of profundity. Ouch. In the abstract, though, it's great fun to say with all those Ps. But now I have to figure out how to use the actual word, not the expositions of it, in a story.

"The man standing before me was of the conniving sort. Oh, he hid it right well, under faultless speech, clothes of the highest fashion, and a pompous air that surrounded him like ladies' perfume. He meant no good, despite all his declaration of nobility. Of that much I was sure.

"I must interrupt you, sir," I said. "And ask you to take your leave."

He seemed genuinely surprise. "Is my proposition so odious to you?"

"Not at all. Your proposition, if it had any basis in reality, would be grand indeed. As it stands, however, I cannot justify the investment of my resources in such a ludicrous endeavour." I stood. "Good-day."

"You are mistaken, Mr. Tremont," he came forward with his hand outstretched. "Let me assure you of the prudence - "

"Mr. Walker, you have said quite enough. I advise you to spare both your breath and your time, for you are wasting them on me."

"I'm afraid I do not understand."

"Allow me to enlighten you." I clasped my hands behind my back and came around to the front of my desk. "I am very particular regarding the men I entrust my affairs to. I must have absolute confidence in the soundness of their minds and the strength of their characters. You fill neither requirement and so, again, I bid you good-day."

He glanced away, chuckling, and then back at me. "I think you'll find I do, upon closer acquaintance."

"I do not desire a further acquaintance with you, sir. I know precisely who and what you are. Your proposition made that most evident."

He raised his chin, a hard glint of pride flashing into his eyes. "And who am I, sir? Or what?"

"You are sciolist. The knowledge you claim to possess is superficial at best, and pretentious at worst. I want nothing to do with your schemes." I returned to my seat and bent over the affairs that were spread out on my desk. "My man will see you out."

(You guys, check out the time stamp. Seriously, look! It's HOURS and HOURS before midnight. I actually managed to post in the middle of the day instead of the very last second of it! I feel accomplished :)


  1. Yay! You made it! :)

    I like your passage and the tone of your voice. Very Jane Austen.

  2. I LOVE this word!! I think just about every teenager could be described as this :) great story too!

  3. Cherie - I know! It's the little victories, right? And thank you. I consider that high praise. I'm in the middle of a course on Jane Austen. I've spent the last two days doing nothing but reading Pride and Prejudice. It must be affecting me ;)

    Jen - I'm glad it was a good discovery for more than just myself. Thanks!

  4. I agree with Cherie! I immediately thought of Jane Austen! I LOVE IT!! I just love Pride and Prejudice! I've been on Emma for a while because of college. No time to read what I want!!

    I love the idea of a "jack of all trades, master of none" very cool!

  5. Thank you, Ashley! I guess I have Mr. Darcy on the brain ;) I'll be reading Emma next for my course. Do you like it? I've never read any of Austen's other novels but I'm looking forward to it.


Do share your thoughts - I enjoy reading them :)