Key Thoughts


Rob Vajko

Are You an Ultracrepidarianist? 

It is probably hard to answer that question, because you have no idea what an “ultracrepidarianist” actually is; neither did I. If you know that you don’t know but don’t want to admit it, then you probably are one. It’s OK to admit you don’t know what it is, especially considering what it is.

An ultracrepidarianist is “a person who regularly gives opinions and answers to things that are outside of their sphere of knowledge or field of specialty,” according to the contributing geniuses at Wikipedia. 

We had an expression in our family when I was growing up that drove me crazy but that also held me in check, especially when discussing issues or topics I really wasn’t that well-informed about. We would get involved in some kind of discussion (“discussion” meant “argument” more often than not). Someone, usually my brother, would suddenly stop debating and look at the person who was getting the most heated in the discussion and say, “Wow! You must know an awful lot about blue whales!” (Or whatever it was we happened to be arguing about at the time.) 

The reason that statement was so effective was because it forced me (yes, it was usually directed at me) to admit that, no matter how much I might want to look like I really knew what I was talking about, I really hadn’t studied the topic in much depth at all. There were many more people much better informed about the blue whale (or whatever) than I was, and the person I was debating (usually my older brother) knew I wasn’t some kind of closet specialist who just had never revealed my secret knowledge until now. He knew I didn’t know all that much and now I knew that he knew too. Playing make-believe isn’t quite as fun when someone points out that you are, in fact, playing make-believe.

We had a different word for an ultracrepidarianist when I was a kid—we called such a person a “know-it-all” and, as most of us know, nobody likes a know-it-all. 

The problem is that no one is being fooled. You know that you aren’t an expert and, chances are, those listening to you quickly figured it out as well.

We act like we know it all because we want respect and admiration and want others to look up to us. In fact, the opposite happens. People eventually find us annoying and lose respect, which in turn drives us deeper into the hole we’ve dug to get respect and admiration back.

Ultracrepidarianism has, of course, always been around but social media hasn’t helped any. While hiding behind a computer screen, we don’t have to watch the eye rolls or hear the snickers; we can’t pick up on the social cues we would normally notice in person. We can also Google a snappy comeback or quickly find an answer or simply ignore the comments we don’t like. 

The main reason that we have to guard against ultracrepidarianism is because being a know-it-all means that we believe we know what we don’t. Our mind becomes closed and we stop being open to any other viewpoint. When we stop learning, we stop growing.

Now if you can pronounce the word, then maybe you really are an ultracrepidarianist.

Rob Vajko lives in Purdy.