I cannot count how many times in my life someone I'm talking to has fixed me with a look and just said, "You're really smart." The specific look varies; sometimes it's dubious, sometimes it's blank confusion, sometimes it's deer-in-headlights. They say it in the same tone of voice one might have used to inform André the Giant that he was impressively large, or to comment to one's companions that the ocean is rather wet.

What makes them do this is a mystery I have never solved.

I know exactly why they think I'm ungodly smart. It's because I am. Aside from my self-evaluation, I have twelve years of public school records full of standardized test scores so high they broke the software used to print the results and sent parts of the bar graph shooting off into the margins. I also have confirmation from people who have been officially certified as smart by other smart people at large, well-regarded universities, who were themselves once certified, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum. My friend David, for instance, who is a bang-up cosmologist, but also one of the worst liars I have ever met. If I walked up to him wearing the world's ugliest hat and asked him what he thought of it, he might not literally use the words "world's ugliest hat," but that would be strictly because he didn't have any peer-reviewed studies evaluating its level of hideousness as compared to other hats currently existing on Earth, or didn't trust the error bars on the ones he did.

The point is, I'm not having an attack of Impostor Syndrome here. I mean, I have those, but they're about other things entirely. I have faith in my raw intellect. The thing I have trouble getting a grip on is what specific behavior I am displaying that makes their evaluation of my intelligence not just conscious, but so loudly front and center that they think it's relevant to the conversation and must be mentioned.

I don't go yammering about IQ scores et al in person. Most of the time it's just not pertinent, and I consider it narcissistic and rude. I bang on about the sociopsychology of the gifted and talented here, from the viewpoint of someone who got hucked into that box at birth and has been there ever since, but that's because it's my blog. I feel okay doing it here because, really, if you're taken aback to find that I'm talking about me on my own blog, then hi! Welcome to your first day on the internet! NSFW means 'not safe for work', don't go anywhere near 4-chan or anything that invokes Rule 34, and if you're flicking the mouse wheel trying to get down to the bottom of the tumblr page, give it up. They call it 'infinite scrolling'. It's turtle memes all the way down.

The observation often comes in the middle of a conversation in which I wasn't making any particular effort to be thinky. I know perfectly well why people are confused at my lack of a PhD after I've just spent half a beer talking their ear off about Romanian etymology. I just have no idea why I get it after a fifteen minute job interview wherein most of our time was spent coming to the realization that the job they had to fill was almost but not quite entirely unlike the job the temp agency presented to me, and that the agency had done everything but fold, spindle, and mutilate my résumé. And they probably only refrained because the resulting wad of rubbish would have jammed in the fax machine.

It makes my heart sink. I know it's supposed to be a compliment, but what it really means is, "I'm not sure I know what you're talking about, and I'm really not sure why the hell you're here talking to me." It means that while I thought we were doing some kind of communicating, they were just confused. It means that I have not, in fact, made a friend, and that further attempts in that direction are probably just going to be awkward. It means they think my brain is some sort of confusing alien thing that they will never understand.

I don't have a problem with people noticing that I'm smart and mentioning it at some relevant point in the conversation. But I stopped liking it when people called me "smart" years ago.

Comments