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What is an Egghead?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2014
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Possessing a superior intellect or an academic bearing does not always help a person ingratiate himself or herself with others very well. One common anti-intellectual epithet often used against an overbearing "know-it-all" or intellectual snob is egghead, a pejorative slang word most likely popularized during the 1950s. An egghead would best be described as a person who embraces academic study or intellectual pursuits to the near-exclusion of all other social interaction. A true egghead often comes across as aggressively intelligent, seeming to berate others for not sharing his or her academic prowess.

Many sources suggest that the term egghead came into popular usage during the contentious 1952 US presidential campaign season. The Democratic candidate was a balding intellectual named Adlai Stevenson, while the Republican candidate was the popular WWII commander Dwight Eisenhower. While Eisenhower was certainly a competent politician and military strategist, Stevenson was widely considered to be the better educated candidate, if more socially remote. Vice-presidential candidate Richard Nixon used Stevenson's intellectual demeanor to his advantage during campaign speeches.

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Because Stevenson had a prominent forehead and male pattern balding, a look commonly seen among male academics, Nixon referred to Stevenson's esoteric campaign platform as the work of a disconnected "egghead," not someone in tune with the needs of ordinary citizens. While the term "egghead" may have been used to describe baldness or a LACK of intelligence in the past, it became a popular anti-intellectual epithet following Nixon's campaign speeches. Adlai Stevenson lost the 1952 presidential election to Dwight Eisenhower, and some political experts suggest one major factor was indeed the perception of Stevenson as an "egghead," not a charismatic "man of the people" like Eisenhower.

The term egghead survives to this day, although it doesn't carry quite the sting it once did. Other terms such as geek, brainiac, know-it-all and nerd have largely replaced the pejorative egghead, although it is still applied to certain academics who rarely interact with the world outside of a university or research facility.

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