The Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty - 154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel - Tiffany Watt Smith 2016
There are few characters in English literature as smug as Emma Woodhouse. “Handsome, clever, and rich,” nothing gives her greater pleasure than her own impressive achievements. She is particularly delighted with her recent success in matchmaking. “So many people said Mr. Weston would never marry again,” she says, but “I made the match” and was “proved in the right.” On she goes with the gloating, “I planned the match,” “success has blessed me.” Until Mr. Knightley can take it no longer: “You made a lucky guess; and that is all that can be said.” But Emma’s self-congratulation knows no bounds: “And have you never known the pleasure and triumph of a lucky guess? I pity you.”
The pink-cheeked gleam of self-SATISFACTION. Ding! The TRIUMPH of a won argument. Ding! The DELIGHT—with its extra twist of CONTEMPT—of feeling one’s own superiority when a competitor falls. Ding! Ding! Ding! No wonder smugness is so irresistible a feeling. With its flash of triumphant grin, it’s an oasis in a world of mistakes and apologies, a little moment of perfect being-in-the-right-ness, a smart, smooth, polished button of a feeling (“smug” or “smugge” originally meant having a neat, spruce appearance; it was only in the mid-nineteenth century that it started to mean being conceited too). Feeling smug is so irrepressibly lovely, you’d think we’d all want to walk around all day dressed head to toe in it. What a shame, then, it’s universally disliked.
See also: HAPPINESS; HATRED.