A malapert is a person who acts like they know everything and is confident that they are always right.
These days, we might call them a know-it-all.
We could also call them a wise guy, a smart aleck, or an expert on everything. There are a number of less polite terms available to those willing to use them, too.
The difference between a pedant and a malapert is that a pedant knows they are right about something in particular, while a malapert thinks they are right about everything.
Malapert is a word that dates back to the 14th century, coming into English from the Old French words mal meaning bad or badly, and apert meaning skilful or clever. By the mid1400s, it was being used to describe a type of person rather than just a behaviour or attitude. Given that Shakespeare uses the word three times in his plays, each time without any explanation, one can assume that the word was commonly used and understood throughout the medieval and early modern periods.
In Henry 6, Queen Margaret and her son, the young Lancaster Prince Edward, engage in a contest of insults with their captors: Clarence and Gloucester. As sons of Richard, Duke of York these two are the Lancastrian King Henry’s enemies, as the two houses are rivals for the English throne. Clarence calls the young prince malapert, highlighting his youthful confidence by calling him an “untutor’d lad”.
Almost as proof of Clarence’s assessment, the prince responds by insulting them again. Despite the clevernesand bravery of his words, this proved to be a bad move, as “perjur’d George” and “misshapen Dick” respond by stabbing him to death. End of argument.
In Richard III, the same Queen Margaret tells the Marquess of Dorset that he is malapert and warns him that his newly found nobility won’t protect him from being destroyed by the Yorks, particularly Richard (Gloucester) whom she describes as a “bottled spider” and a “poisonous bunch-back’d toad”. Richard turns the insult back on Margaret, and Dorset promptly turns it right back on him.
In the comedy Twelfth Night, Sir Toby Belch and Sebastian are engaged in an argument when Sir Toby insists that he “must have an ounce or two of this malapert blood” from his rival.
This is a word I have long been aware of, yet I have definitely not made as good use of it as I could have done. This, however, is likely to change in the near future.
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