In his book ‘How to Be an Alien’ George Mikes writes,
In England it is bad manners to be clever, to assert something confidently’ as ‘the Englishman is modest’.
I wouldn’t say much has changed in this respect since the book was first published in 1946 – the British code of behaviour still strongly disapproves of any displays of one’s intelligence. In other words, if you’re smart, keep it to yourself.
It should now come as no surprise that the English language (or at least British English) has far fewer words and expressions for ‘intelligent’ than, as we have seen, it does for ‘stupid’. Let’s have a look at them.
1. Bright is used especially about children and young people (you may have read Evelyn Waugh’s Bright Young Things or seen the film based on the book).
She’s the brightest student in the class and loved by all the teachers.
2. Brilliant means ‘extremely clever’.
Albert Einstein was one of the most brilliant scientists of all time.
However, it can also be used sarcastically to mean the opposite!
(At the airport) You left the tickets at home?! Brilliant! What are we going to do now?
3. Brainy is an informal word meaning ‘clever and good at studying’.
In my family it’s my older brother who’s the brainy one.
4. If you’re known to make good judgments and have a deep understanding of things, often based on lots of experience and coming only with age, then congratulations! you can call yourself a wise person.
Sadly, some people get old without getting wise.
5. An adjective to describe someone who’s good at inventing things or at thinking of new ideas is ingenious.
An ingenious person would see it as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.
6. Someone who’s resourceful is good at solving problems.
I haven’t trained to teach kids! – No, but you’re resourceful, so I’m sure you’ll cope.
7. Sometimes people use their intelligence to get what they want in dishonest or secret ways. In this case, we describe them as cunning or crafty.
I wonder if ‘crafty’ and ‘politician’ always go hand in hand?
8. Savvy is both a noun and an adjective. As an adjective, it means ‘having practical knowledge and experience’. As a noun, it means ‘know-how’.
I’m not very savvy about computers.
He’s known for his business savvy and great leadership qualities.
And a few idioms (we all love them, don’t we?).
9. Be quick on the uptake means ‘be fast at understanding things’.
He’s 70 but still remarkably quick on the uptake.
10. A smart cookie is a clever person who knows how to get what they want (not necessarily a compliment!).
She’s an experienced politician with the reputation of being a smart cookie.
The next expression isn’t complimentary either.
11. Too clever by half is used to refer to a clever person who shows off their intelligence in an annoying way.
She’s one of those people who are too clever by half, always telling others when they are wrong and correcting their mistakes.
And to finish off, my favourite – not just a pretty face, an expression meaning ‘not only attractive but also intelligent’.
His new girlfriend isn’t just a pretty face – she’s the brain behind the most successful PR campaign ever.