Students may encounter the word smart in many of the texts they read. Two general themes are present in the definitions students may be exposed to: intelligence and appearance. Being sassy, witty, bright, and alert all embody different subtleties among the definitions of smart that are associated with intelligence. Being fashionable or trim both describe the nuances within the definitions of smart that are associated with appearance. Many of the uses of the word smart and associated synonyms can be used as both adjectives and verbs.
Students may read a story about a bold young hero who pushes against authoritative figures that don’t believe in the hero’s abilities or the validity of a current quest. The authoritative figure might be a parent that says, “Don’t get smart with me, dragons don’t exist.” Students may pick up a text about a young businesswoman who is an accountant for a local business. She dresses smart for work in order to look neat, trim, and professional.
Although students are primarily taught the intellectual definitions of smart, the word originates from the Old English word smeart, meaning painful. In this way, smart was used as a noun, a physical wound or sore, and a verb, to be hurt or in pain. Although these uses of the word smart are still relevant, they are uncommon to students and they also do not have a Spanish cognate.
In today’s high tech world, the word smart is now being used to describe certain devices, such as phones. This use of the word smart refers to a non-living thing that is capable of “independent” and intelligent action. The use of the word smart in this way dates back to the late 1940’s with the development of the first computers. Since then, technological advancements have led to the creation of machines and devices that can perform increasingly skilled tasks.