There’s A Fine Line Between Smart And Ass

Photo by pmarkham via Flickr

I decided to do the online dating thing again. And when you’re doing the online dating thing, you get to fill in these little packets of personal information. One self-description that I invariably put down is that I can be a bit of a smart-ass. I put this down because… well, I’ve been known to make girls cry on the first date, so I feel that sufficient warning must be granted to all my potential suitees.

Not too surprisingly, I often get matched up with other alleged smart-asses. What does this mean when I meet up with these women then? Mostly, we spend a large portion of our time barbing back and forth in a proverbial urinating contest to see whose gluteus is more intelligent.

Unfortunately, some people don’t seem to understand the difference between being a smart-ass and being an ass. Hey, I admit it. I’ve had issues with it myself. (Again, I made a girl CRY. On a FIRST DATE.) To be perfectly honest, I still lapse occasionally… er, frequently from smart-ass to plain ass.

You see, there’s a fine line between sarcastic and insulting. Being sarcastic takes intelligence, a quick wit, and some amount of lucky timing. Being insulting is just the clueless person’s substitute for true sarcasm.

Let me tell you about an evening recently spent between two self-professed smart-asses:

We’re hanging out in my room. She happens to have a bottle of Diet Coke with her. She opens the bottle, takes a sip, then drops it and spills a decent amount of soda on my bed. I groan and say, “alright, whatever. Here, get up. I’m gonna change the sheets.”

She says: “Don’t worry, we’ll just cover it up. You can change them in the morning.”

I say: “Ummm, I’d rather just change them right now. I’m not gonna sleep on a Coke stain.”


If this article were an episode of some cleverly hip ‘90s sitcom, the action would suddenly freeze, and you’d hear the sound of a record scratching, followed by my snarky voice-over.

Or, even cleverer, I break character, look straight into the camera, and address the viewers, while everything around me—including my date—remains frozen.

And I say something along the lines of:

“At this point, ladies and gentleman, my date has several possible responses. Which do you consider to be appropriately smart-ass? Which do you consider to be walking that fine line, but still somewhat clever? And which do you consider to be just plain insulting?”

Animated text zips across the screen, and you see the following three choices:

[Swoosh] A. “What, is the caffeine gonna keep you awake?”

[Swoosh] B. “Oh, you’re not used to sleeping on a wet spot?”

[Swoosh] C. “What are you, OCD?”

“Now, ladies and gentlemen, which option do you suppose my ever-so-sarcastic date chose?”

Really, is there anything clever or ironic about that last comment? (Because, in case my ass is too smart for you to figure out, that’s what she said.) Or is it just… well, rude? What if I really did suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder? What then?

As it is, I am somewhat anal, so I’m used to the OCD comments. If I was bothered at all, it was mostly because she’d warned me that she was extremely sarcastic, but all she’d done up to this point was pepper our conversations with comments like these, none of which I found to be particularly witty or clever. Still, it wasn’t that big a deal, so I let it go.

It only became a big deal when she decided to reference my supposed OCD-ness at least seven times over the next hour. Really? She couldn’t come up with anything new to say?

That’s where she crossed the line from “smart” to “ass.”

Okay, so where exactly is that line then? Do we automatically click over from funny to annoying between the sixth and seventh times we make the same comment? Is there some rule that will draw the definitive distinction between sarcasm and insult?

I don’t think so. I think we have to be take it on a case-by-case basis… like the Supreme Court’s assessment of pornography: “I’ll know it when I see it.”

That’s how it works with sarcasm, too: “I’ll know it when I hear it.” And in this case, she was definitely being insulting, especially when she kept bringing it up over and over and over again.

Of course, the worst part of all this is that I now have a permanent brown stain on my mattress….

Pop quiz: what’s an appropriate smart-ass response to this?

A. Whoa, I think you’ve got way more than just a bed-wetting problem.

B.  Suck it up. It’s just a stain.

See? I told you there’s a fine line between smart and ass.

Oh, and it’s not the hyphen. Smart-ass.

Share This Post


  • DX3, You’re probably the Smartest Ass I know 🙂
    Maybe she was just upset because she was on YOUR BED and you cared more about your sheets ?

  • Ok since when is cleaning up a coke spill on your bed even OCD. Not only is she rude, she’s apparently a slob.

  • Pingback: Mental Disorders 101

  • Yeah, that girl was just dumb. Since when is even a smart-ass comment the appropriate response to spilling soda on someone’s bed? The ONLY appropriate response is “Oh gosh, I’m so sorry! Let me clean it up.”

  • Yeah, you know what? I never even thought about her not offering to clean it up. Not cool. She’s an ass on multiple levels. Wait, a multi-faceted ass? How does that even work? I don’t want to know…

  • Hey, that’s right! That never occurred to me, either. She never offered to clean it up… just that we could “throw a towel over it.” I was, like, “ummm, ew.”

    Now I’m even bitterer. 😉

  • First: “What, is the caffeine gonna keep you awake?”

    That line is priceless.

    Second: What kind of person spills something, especially at someone else’s house, and doesn’t want to clean it up? It’s so unbelievably rude!

    Finally, how exactly did she say this line? Because I’m with commenter #1: “Don’t worry, we’ll just cover it up. You can change them in the morning.”

    That really sounds like innuendo to me. xD

    And even if it’s not, she still definitely could’ve been annoyed that you cared more about the sheets than her. But she’s definitely a jerk and I’m surprised you didn’t kick her out sooner.

  • Okay, now I feel like I need to defend her a bit because it’s not as though she’s THAT repulsive or horrible of a person… and also because she might actually read all this. (For the record, though, everything I mentioned in this article, I’ve already told her.)

    Like I said, what bothered me more than anything else was the repetitiveness of her comment. It just got old after a while, and that kind of became the dealbreaker for me.

    As for all y’all’s conjectures about innuendo and whatnot….

    I’ll leave that for a future post… maybe. 😉

  • Dude, she spilled on your bed, bad date move. She should just shut up if you are going to change your OWN sheets.

  • Oh that was my above comment. Yes she seems lame as heck, sorry bro.

  • Haha, I’m glad I found this post. I’d been curious about the details of she-who-freaked-out-on-you as a result of your blog 🙂 And it sounds like you (and your sheets) are just as well off without her!

  • great title Dennis! Love it!

  • I think the line comes between mirth and maliciousness, whether you’re saying something because it’s funny, or you’re saying it out of mean-spiritedness, or to try to manipulate the person or show dominance or something.

    Take sexual harassment in the work place. Say I ask for a co-workers help with something. I need to re-size a spreadsheet to fit in a particular document, but “it’s too big. I don’t think it’s gonna fit.”

    Incorrect response:
    “Yeah, girls are pretty bad at geometry and spacing. But that’s okay, I still think you’re pretty.”

    Correct response:
    “That’s what she said!”

Leave a Reply