Alec Hoag and his wife, Melinda, ran a scam in New York City during the 1840s. His wife would pose as a prostitute and lure men into an alley. She would pick their pockets and place what she had stolen where Alec could get it while Melinda distracted the men.
When the men became wise to the scam, they would turn to the police. Alec and Melinda had a deal with the police to split the profits made from the con.
Alec and Melinda began to think about how they could do the same con, but not share the profits with the police. They used their apartment rather than an alley for their liaisons.
When the men removed their clothes, Melinda placed them where Alec could remove whatever was in their clothes. The men were reluctant to report the crime to the police once Alec burst into the room pretending to be the outraged husband.
Everything worked fine until the police began to realize that they were no longer benefitting from the con. Alec and Melinda were arrested. Alec escaped from prison soon after his arrest and was soon recaptured. The police began to refer to him as Smart Alec, someone who was too smart for his own good.
The phrase took on a life of its own after that. Today we use the term “smart aleck” as someone who is sarcastic and condescending to others. A smart aleck is someone who gives the impression that they know everything. Smart alecks can be very irritating and have unattractive egos. Perhaps the image of Alec Hoag being a pimp is an apt image we might have when we are in the presence of a smart aleck.
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“There is nothing so phony as a person who has to show you how smart they are.” – Unknown