Written by: Lach Ravelo

10 Ways on How to Spot a Pseudo-Intellectual, and How You Can be a Genuinely Intelligent Person


What separates an intellectual from a pseudo-intellectual? Intelligence, of course. The former are people who possess a great deal of knowledge and insight about a wide array of topics, while the latter use their formal education or acquired knowledge to give an illusion of intelligence. But how to spot a pseudo intellectual isn’t as hard as you might think.

Have you ever talked to someone who had something to say about everything? Someone who likes to start arguments and insist that they are always right, without considering other people’s perspectives? If so, then you might be dealing with a pseudo-intellectual.

What exactly is a pseudo-intellectual? Are there any tell-tale signs or traits? What is the difference between a pseudo-intellectual and a “genuine” one? 

Read on and discover some of the ways on how to spot a pseudo-intellectual and how you can avoid being one. 

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What is a Pseudo-Intellectual?

pseudo intellectual vs intellectual

The prefix “pseudo-” comes from the Greek term “pseudes,” which means “false, lying.” 

One typical example is the word “pseudonym,” which refers to a fictitious name, usually one that an author uses. Another example is the term “pseudoscience,” which is used to call a set of beliefs or practices that are only “pretending” to be based on science or scientific methods. 

And this brings us to another word — our word for today — “pseudo-intellectual.”

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a pseudo-intellectual is “a person who wants to be thought of as having a lot of intelligence and knowledge, but who is not really intelligent or knowledgeable.” 

In other words, a pseudo-intellectual is someone who is just pretending to be more intelligent than they actually are. To understand this concept further, let us try to draw the line that separates pseudo-intellectuals from genuine ones. 

Real Intellectuals vs. Pseudo-Intellectuals: What’s the Difference? 

am i pseudo intellectual

The Collins English Dictionary defines “intellectual” as both a noun and an adjective. 

As a noun, it refers to “someone who spends a lot of time studying and thinking about complicated ideas.” 

As an adjective, the term is used to describe people and things related to such ideas (e.g., “The professor enjoys intellectual pursuits”).  

Based on these definitions and etymology, there’s no doubt that a pseudo-intellectual is somebody who only “pretends” to think and understand complex ideas that only real intellectuals can truly ponder on and understand. 

Notably, American journalist Sydney Harris had written an article many years ago titled “Telling the Real from the Pseudo.” Through this article, he discussed several differences between true intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals, explaining that:

  • True intellectuals look for the right questions, while pseudo-intellectuals claim to have the correct answers.
  • True intellectuals are motivated to seek the truth, whereas pseudo-intellectuals are interested in being right or regarded as right.
  • True intellectuals are willing to admit that they do not know everything, while pseudo-intellectuals claim to know everything about a specific subject.
  • True intellectuals recognize that opposite ideas are not always contradicting, whereas pseudo-intellectuals only see “right and wrong,” or “black and white.”
  • True intellectuals never talk down on their audience, while pseudo-intellectuals talk above their audience, aiming to impress them.

As you can see, Harris’s comparison between true intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals is pretty accurate. While the genuine intellectual is keen on pursuing a deeper understanding of things, the pseudo-intellectual is mainly concerned about image and making a good impression.

How to Spot a Pseudo-Intellectual? Signs and Traits You Need to Watch Out For

signs of a pseudo intellectual

So, how to spot a pseudo-intellectual? Here are some telltale signs and traits:

1. The pseudo-intellectual seeks not to inform but to impress.

For pseudo-intellectuals, it’s all about looking good and making an impression. They like to use complicated words and phrases — even if it’s out of context — to show off to everyone how expansive their vocabulary is. 

When they speak, you can’t help but notice that they want you to be impressed!

2. The pseudo-intellectual likes to drop names.

“As Sigmund Freud / John Locke / (insert famous person’s name) said…” is something that pseudo-intellectuals like to insert in conversations. 

Never mind if they don’t truly understand the actual theory or concept; the mere fact that they “know” the person’s name makes them smart, too!

3. The pseudo-intellectual does not engage in “intellectual” work

A genuine intellectual usually puts years of hard work into an intellectual pursuit. Take a look at graduate students and research scientists, for example. They are genuinely passionate about their work; always eager to read and discover something new about their favorite subjects.

On the other hand, a pseudo-intellectual does not put in the work. Sure, they may claim to have read all of Shakespeare’s original works, citing famous quotes and characters, for example. In reality, however, they may have just read summaries or watched Shakespeare-inspired movies!

4. The pseudo-intellectual often interrupts when others are talking.

Pseudo intellectuals like to “hijack” conversations. They often interrupt the speaking person and leave little room for other people to contribute to the discussion. They want to do this at every opportunity, regardless of the topic.

5. The pseudo-intellectual likes to start arguments.

What better way to show off their “intellectual prowess” than by engaging in debates and arguments? Whether you’re talking about politics, religion, philosophy, modern technology, and many other topics — the pseudo-intellectual is ever ready to “engage.”

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6. Pseudo-intellectuals tend to be grammar Nazis.

During a heated argument, the pseudo-intellectual is bound to run out of things to say. That’s when they start pointing out your wrong grammar, mispronunciation, and other minor “mistakes” that are not related to the topic. Why? Because they’re right, that’s why!

7. The pseudo-intellectual claims to know it all.

As mentioned earlier, the pseudo-intellectual always has something to say about everything. They seem to have all the answers, even if they weren’t part of the conversation in the first place. 

You’ll instantly spot a pseudo-intellectual if a person suddenly becomes an “expert” on different subjects when a situation calls for it. A pseudo-intellectual can be an “expert” on medicine at one point, then becomes an “expert” economist. Or maybe, an “expert” sports analyst during huge sports events. 

8. The pseudo-intellectual deems personal views or opinions as absolute truth.

Pseudo-intellectuals usually consider their personal views or opinions as absolute truth. Never mind that there are many other views and opinions out there. “You’re wrong, I’m right!” is their mantra. To contradict them is to go against the truth because they’re right!

9. The pseudo-intellectual is unable to see other points of view.

Because pseudo-intellectuals deem their personal view as absolute truth, they are unable to see other perspectives. 

During a debate or argument, they are usually too busy thinking of a counter-response rather than listening to a different perspective. 

To argue with a pseudo-intellectual is pointless; you’ll just be going around and around in circles!

10.Pseudo-intellectuals are unable to see the whole picture.

Most pseudo-intellectuals have what we call “tunnel vision.” They only see what they like to see (i.e., themselves) and cannot consider a subject from different vantage points. As a result, they often fail to grasp the bigger picture and have a limited perspective. 

Now that you know how to spot a pseudo-intellectual let’s discover some of the best ways to deal with them. 

How to Deal with Pseudo-Intellectuals

how to stop being a pseudo intellectual

So maybe you have a friend or a family member who is a pseudo-intellectual. How can you deal with or interact with them? Here are some things that you can do:

1. Call them out.

You could go for the direct approach, especially if the person is a friend or a family member. 

Be careful with your words, though, as they might not even be aware of their traits. 

Instead of saying, “You’re a pseudo-intellectual,” point out their specific trait. For instance, you could say something like, “I think you are too argumentative” or “I don’t like it when you interrupt me when I’m speaking,” and make suggestions on how they can change/improve themselves.

2. Be mindful of common fallacies.

Pseudo-intellectuals like to generalize or oversimplify things just to “defend” their opinion, which they consider as “absolute” truth. 

When you notice them making a general statement, point it out. Explain that things are not always black and white, and there are many sides to an issue. Also, take note of the fallacies they may sometimes use in their discussions.

3. Avoid them.

Sometimes, you might find yourself talking to a pseudo-intellectual who simply won’t accept new ideas – thus making you feel “trapped” in a toxic conversation. Simply bow down, step out, and don’t engage. Avoid interacting with the person; it’s as simple as that. Otherwise, you would only end up feeling stressed!

How to be a Genuine Intellectual

How to Spot a Pseudo-Intellectual

 Now that we discussed how to spot a pseudo-intellectual and how to deal with them, we’re left with a burning question you might have in mind:

What if you recently discovered that you’re a pseudo-intellectual yourself? And if you are, how can you transform into a genuine intellectual? 

Here are some things you can do to change for the better: 

1. Never stop learning. 

Age should not be a hindrance when it comes to education. You can learn many things – personal finance, information technology, business management, language learning, and creative skills such as painting, sculpting, pottery. 

If you are interested in a particular subject, go ahead and pursue it. Take a class, join a group, and just keep on learning!

2. Read, read, read.

Reading is a good habit that not only helps you to relax but also helps you to expand your perspective. 

Regardless of the genre – fiction, non-fiction, literature, academic reference –, you will come across new words and new ways of thinking. Reading engages your mind and imagination!

3. Write!

Similar to reading, writing helps expand your knowledge and vocabulary. It doesn’t have to be a book – simply keeping a journal or composing a letter/article/essay enables you to practice your writing skills. Eventually, you will find that your writing gets better and better each time.

4. Try new approaches to work or studies.

Keep an open mind. There are different ways of learning, working, and creating. Don’t be afraid to change! 

Change usually leads to learning and growth. It may not be comfortable at first, but intentionally seeking new ways of doing things will definitely “boost” your intellect.

5. Explore your creative side.

Remember when you were a kid and how much fun you had doing finger paintings, clay art, and other creative works? 

Expressing your creativity is a great way to enhance your intellect. Whether you’re into sketching, watercolor painting, sculpting, or other “artistic” hobbies, simply have fun and let your imagination soar!

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6. Learn to play an instrument.

Playing any musical instrument requires not only your skill at hand-eye coordination or memorization, but it also requires you to focus and concentrate, too! 

In other words, it engages your mind! So, bring out your old guitar, piano keyboard, flute, and learn to play some new songs. Sign up for a music class. Taking up a musical instrument is not only fun and relaxing, but it’s also good for your brain, too!

7. Exercise!

Exercise is good for your body and your mind at the same time. When you exercise, you start to feel better, more refreshed, and more ready to face your tasks. It results in better focus and greater energy. 

So be sure to exercise for around 30 minutes a day, at least three days a week. Don’t forget; the healthier your body, the better your mind can perform, too!

8. Eat healthy foods.

Speaking of health, always be mindful of what you eat and drink. 

As much as possible, avoid junk foods and those with too much sugar, fat, and salt. Consume more veggies, fresh fruits, and lean meats, and follow a healthy diet. Also, try natural drinks that can help improve brain function. Green tea, ginkgo biloba tea, cacao hot chocolate, and so on are just a few of the drinks you might want to indulge in!

9. Travel to new places.

Whenever you can, travel to a new place — be it another town, city, or even outside the country. 

Travel involves meeting new people, learning a new language, discovering a different culture, and participating in stimulating activities! The simple act of gaining new experiences, facing new challenges, and making new friends will surely expand your horizons.

The Bottom Line

pseudo intellectual vs intellectual

Whether you like them or not, there will always be pseudo-intellectuals around. How to deal with them is up to you, although it’s always a good idea to know the “signs.” 

The important thing is that you focus on improving yourself to be a truly genuine intellectual.

Share Your Thoughts!

I know that there’s so much we could talk about this topic, so why not share your thoughts below? 


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