Follow TV Tropes


Feigning Intelligence

Go To

"When in doubt, look intelligent!"

The opposite of Obfuscating Stupidity: A stupid character pretends (or tries to pretend) they are really smart or otherwise good at something. The stupid characters will either enlist a smart character to feed them lines, or bluff their way through with seemingly profound statements ("What is art? Are we Art? Is Art Art?") and Techno Babble.

Tends to show up in characters who are so dumb, they don't even realize that Dumb Is Good. Frequently involves the use of Nerd Glasses or a Labcoat of Science and Medicine. As with Obfuscating Stupidity, comedy frequently ensues from a stupid confusion or Double Entendre conversation. This often results in Delusions of Eloquence. See also Know-Nothing Know-It-All, for stupid characters who are absolutely convinced of their own genius. Often overlaps with Dumber Than They Look.

When done with pure romance in mind, the result is Playing Cyrano.

Note: It is possible to feign greater intelligence than you have if you are smarter than the people you are trying to convince.

Feigning intelligent behavior is often the main purpose of Video Game A.I., because Perfect Play A.I. (a.k.a. actually intelligent and perfectly rational) is only fun in very specific contexts. Compare Profound by Pop Song and Small Name, Big Ego.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Ninja Nonsense has Onsokumaru, who pretends to be an expert ninja, despite obviously being one of the stupidest characters on the show.
  • The main character in Mx0 knows nothing about magic, but he's smart enough to fake being a genius in the field.
  • Whisper from Yo-kai Watch is smart but acts like a know-it-all even when he isn't. He often uses a Yokai Wiki despite saying he knows everything about Yōkai. It's later revealed that in the past, he was a Yo-kai whose inspiriting ability makes people feign intelligence. After leading Ishida Mitsunari to his death by Inspiriting him, Whisper swore off from ever using his Inspiriting ability again.
  • In Osomatsu-san, Choromatsu combines this with Hypocrite by trying to appear as the Only Sane Man when in reality, he's like his other brothers.
  • Overlord (2012):
    • A major problem for Ainz is that his subordinates and his enemies believe him to be a godlike Chessmaster who's about five moves ahead of everyone else (especially by the actual Evil Genius Demiurge, who idolizes Ainz for not only following the course of action Demiurge would have taken but getting better results), when in fact Ainz has enormous magical power but very little planning ability, and despite his repeatedly explaining to his underlings he's not as smart as they think he is, they refuse to believe it (and in fact believe his modesty is all part of his plan).
    • Emperor Jircniv goes on a diplomatic visit to Nazarick, when he is quickly convinced that Ainz cannot be beaten through magic alone. After his visit, he's convinced Ainz is watching his every move, a theory seemingly confirmed just as he tries to negotiate with other countries to ally against Nazarick: Ainz shows up and demonstrates he can't be beaten even when Willfully Weak, causing Jircniv to make the Empire a vassal of Ainz then and there. In fact Ainz was there by coincidence, and while he was watching Jircniv it was to take notes on how a ruler should act.
    • Ainz is able to cast magic of the tenth tier and above. The Archmage Fluder, who can only cast sixth-tier magic, begs to become Ainz' apprentice. Ainz was brought in as his YGGDRASSIL character and thus has no idea how magic works, so he settles for giving him books on magic and hoping he'll find something. Ainz is pretty intelligent, but he just isn't the nigh-omniscient Evil Genius he is taken for. Nazarick's NPCs and others often overinterpret Ainz's actions.
  • School Zone Girls: Yokoe, a certifiable moron, holds out both of her fists and tells friend-of-a-friend Tsubaki that if she picks the correct one, she'll win a prize. The meek Tsubaki reluctantly picks one. Yokoe then opens both hands, revealing they're both empty. Yokoe declares sagely, "In life there are no right answers!" Tsubaki just looks like she's about to cry.

    Fan Works 
  • Assassin's Creed: Rising Sun: Washio Tsume attempts to convince Mitsuko that he's Chinese, rather than Japanese. Thing is, not only has he never met anyone from China, he knows absolutely nothing about politics... oh, and he can't read.
  • Wheatley in Blue Sky, reprising his role of desperately attempting to seem intelligent without actually being so. His success rate is...debatable, but has at the very least not improved much from Portal 2.
  • But I made it up?: After realizing that the Cult he'd thought that he completely made up is actually real — and really looking towards him as their leader — Cid/Shadow acts as though he's already aware of anything they learn. As a result, this leaves him completely in the dark about a lot of details (like how to translate any of the coded documents the Shadow Garden keeps sending him).
  • The Dark Lords of Nerima: When Ami visits an acupuncture clinic to learn more about it, Shampoo has Genma pretend to be Dr. Tofu; while Genma was hardly a master of the art, he knew enough about it to sound decently impressive.
  • In Equestria: A History Revealed, the in-universe author and narrator, Loose Change, seems to be a shining example of this. It doesn't help that the fic is supposed to be her academic essay that she's submitting to her University, and any hopes of her maintaining academic professionalism and integrity are gone by Chapter 2. She still maintains that she's "smarter than the rest of those traditionalist historians", despite clear evidence that she's not.
  • With Pearl and Ruby Glowing has a Downplayed case in Ratigan, who is rather smart... but not quite as clever as he and many other characters seem to think. His tendency to target geniuses has backfired upon him at least once, he rarely bothers with using a condom, and regularly does very impulsive things. This doesn't stop him from attempting to pass himself off as a genius, and it's possible that one of his main motivations for acting the way that he does is that on some level, he knows that he's not as brilliant as he pretends to be.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Casino Royale (1967). Jimmy Bond is jealous of his uncle Sir James Bond. To show he's even better, Jimmy pretends to play some Debussy (a passionate pursuit of Sir James) on the piano, only it's a recording that he has to hastily turn off when the piano keeps playing without him.
  • DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story has Ben Stiller's character attempt to impress a woman... by pretending to read the dictionary.
  • Otto in A Fish Called Wanda, who liberally quotes Nietzsche. Wanda manages to see through his pretensions by the midpoint of the movie.
    Otto: Don't call me stupid.
    Wanda: Oh, right! To call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people! I've known sheep that could outwit you. I've worn dresses with higher IQ's. But you think you're an intellectual, don't you, ape?
    Otto: Apes don't read philosophy.
    Wanda: Yes they do, Otto. They just don't understand it. Now let me correct you on a couple of things, OK? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not "Every man for himself." And The London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto! I looked them up!
  • This is the plot of the 1994 romantic comedy I.Q.. It helps that the romantic lead has no less than Albert Einstein giving him advice on how to appear smarter.
  • Kingsman: The Golden Circle: Eggsy is quite intelligent on his own, but when he's called to dinner with the in-laws, the King and Queen of Sweden, he uses his augmented-reality glasses and a friend in Mission Control to inform his dinner conversation. Since the King only grills him on increasingly abstruse topics, from India's banking industry to Moorish revival architecture, without showing any expertise of his own, the King probably has it coming.
  • In Mr. Mom, Michael Keaton's character is renovating the house and pretending to know what he's doing to impress his wife's boss. Her boss asks him if he was going to do the renovations in "two-twenty" (referring to a standard voltage for electrical wiring). Keaton hesitates a moment and says, "Yeah, two-twenty... two-twenty-one. Whatever it takes!" This is, of course, a meaningless answer.
  • Liz Hurley's character in The Film of the Series of My Favorite Martian is a glamorous hard-hitting reporter... who is also a complete airhead. She only sounds smart because a scriptwriter feeds her lines through a hidden earpiece.
  • Played straight for most of the remake of The Pink Panther (2006)... mostly. As an example, after hearing a murder victim's last words were "Oh, it's you!", Clouseau orders all people in the city with the name "Yu" to be detained for interrogation. Naturally, he's saddled up with a Chinese woman rattling off in Chinese. After the interrogation, his partner asks if he can even understand Chinese. Clouseau acts all offended and replies something along the lines of "Do you think I would do all this if I didn't understand Chinese?" Seeing as he's been Feigning Intelligence for most of the movie, his partner (and the audience) look unconvinced... until a flashback at the end of the movie reveals that not only did Clouseau actually understand what the woman was saying, she had also given them a vital clue. Clouseau doesn't pretend to be intelligent, he actually believes he's this massively skilled badass, though granted, when his beliefs betray him he will try to play it off as on purpose. In the original film series, Peter Sellers often commented that he played Clouseau as an extremely arrogant man who was nevertheless just clever enough to realize what a complete imbecile he really was.
  • Romy and Michele in Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, who attempt to pass themselves off as the inventors of Post-it notes. It doesn't work out so well.
  • Done as part of a Gambit Roulette in the 2007 St Trinians. It helps that they know some of the answers.
  • An unintentional example in Tremors 2: Aftershocks, when the Graboids first mutate into Shriekers. For the first few scenes after they come into existence, they tear up several cars and the radio tower, convincing the protagonists that they achieved human-level intelligence and actually planned everything out to cut off their ability to travel and communicate with each other. Eventually, they find out that Shriekers navigate by infrared, and were simply biting anything they came across that was hot, whether it was actually food or not.
    Grady: You mean they're acting so smart because they're so stupid?

  • Wayne pulls these on scientists in The Bands of Mourning. When on the site of a crashed airplane, technology that none of them has seen before, he disguises himself as a scientist and yells at the other scientists and guards that the whole thing will collapse using terms that he clearly made up. Since none of the other scientists want to admit that they don't know what he's talking about, they save face by agreeing and following his orders.
  • The main character in The Death of the Vazir Mukhtar is sometimes accused of writing or at least editing the correspondence of General Ivan Paskevich, his in-law and sort-of superior in the Caucasus, so as to make him seem smarter. That is apparently untrue, although Paskevich might be considered a mild example of this trope nonetheless.
  • Discworld's Fred Colon sometimes does this when talking with Nobby Nobbs. Nobby Nobbs has an unfortunate habit of asking innocent questions that point out how full of it Colon is. It's implied Nobby's the smarter of the two, but not by much.
  • Used by Thomas in The Dresden Files to survive in his really messed-up family. While he plays Obfuscating Stupidity to the hilt for most of his relatives so they won't see him as a legitimate threat, his sister Lara saw through that. So he feigns intelligence only for her, making cryptic statements and hinting he has complex plans in motion, which holds her off while she tries to figure out what he's doing. Harry notes it's a good scheme, if there's enough paranoia. And in the White Court, paranoia comes 'bottled, on tap and in hot and cold running neuroses'.
  • Invoked by Hercule Poirot as his standard method of Obfuscating Stupidity - he is boastful in order to make his opponents think he is feigning intelligence, when in fact he really is that smart.
  • The Number of the Beast by Robert A. Heinlein features a main character who not only passed himself off as an expert, but managed to get a degree by writing a paper that catered to all of the reviewers' prejudices and pet theories. Of course, he was actually doing this to prove a point instead of trying to fit in with educated society.
  • The Hunger Games: Effie Trinket is probably dumber than a jar of mayonnaise, but she certainly doesn't see it that way. At one point, Effie claims to be something of an expert in architecture. Portia only acknowledges this because the silence was getting too long. At one point she claims, "Everyone has their reservations, naturally. You being from the coal district. But I said, and this was very clever of me, I said, "Well, if you put enough pressure on coal it turns to pearls!" This gets a callback in Catching Fire by an amused Peeta when he actually finds a pearl.
  • The novelization of Iron Man reveals a moderate case where the local boss of the Ten Rings, who is nonetheless portrayed as polished and educated, actually manages to intimidate Tony Stark by appearing to understand everything in his workshop... until he turns over the Jericho blueprints that he'd already been holding the right way up, and Tony realizes it's an act.
  • In The Man Who Was Thursday, an actor successfully impersonates a professor of philosophy by talking nonsense, which everyone assumes to be abstruse erudite knowledge since they can't understand it.
    "Then he tried to blast my claims intellectually. I countered that by a very simple dodge. Whenever he said something that nobody but he could understand, I replied with something which I could not even understand myself."
  • Winnie the Pooh:
    • Owl; when faced with a note that contains more than three words, none of which are his own name or "Thursday", he first tries to trick Rabbit into reading it for him, and then considers pushing Rabbit out of his tree rather than admit he's having problems.
    • Rabbit is another example of this trope, to a lesser extent.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the The Big Bang Theory episode The Gorilla Experiment, Penny wants to learn "a little physics" so she can talk to Leonard about work. Sheldon tries to teach her, but she doesn't quite get it. Later, she repeats what Sheldon taught her, word-for-word, as if from a script. After she finishes, she mentions that's all she knew, except that Fig Newton's were named after a town in Massachusetts, not Isaac Newton.
  • In Black Books, Bernard attracts a girl by pretending to be a jazz pianist. Since he had Manny playing the chords from inside the piano with spoons, Fran gets back at him when she expands Bernard's lie to falsely out him as a genius:
    Bernard: What did you say to Kate? She thinks I'm The Renaissance. She'll think I've lied! I have to go along with all this reclusive genius stuff — she's going to be very upset when she finds out I'm a reclusive wanker.
  • Cory in the House: Newt is forced to do this when he develops a crush on a new girl at school who is a childhood genius and starts to worry that she might not like him if he wasn't as smart as her.
  • Deadwood: The highly intelligent and eloquent Al Swearengen is somewhat Book Dumb, at least in comparison to the erudite C.W. Merrick. When Merrick suggests advertising that the smallpox vaccine will be distributed gratis, Al blusters. "I know what that word means. Prove that you do!"
  • In Doctor Who, the Tenth Doctor stated to his younger incarnation that he wore his glasses not because he needed them, but because it made him look clever. Of course, the Doctor is very smart to begin with, but still. It has also been theorized that the Tenth Doctor, who frequently claims himself to be clever, is double-Feigning Intelligence-Obfuscating Stupidity, or something. (See the Poirot example above.) The Doctor has been getting into trouble by pretending to be more knowledgeable than he actually is since "The Aztecs" in 1964.
  • Drake & Josh: Drake gets Josh to help him cheat on an academic game show to impress an attractive genius. Hilarity Ensues, leading to the good ol' Be Yourself Aesop... which, in this case, would mean, "I don't care about what's inside. I like you because you're cute."
  • Donnie Steven in Even Stevens is normally an airheaded Dumb Muscle jock, but in one episode he decides to act smarter to impress people, and watches a video to this end that recommends wearing nonprescription glasses, shoehorning stock "big words" that he doesn't understand into conversations and stroking his chin a lot to make it look like he's thinking hard. Towards the end of the episode he meets a TV producer that Ren is trying very hard to impress and sees that she's wearing the same glasses as him and using the same techniques mentioned in the video (including using the same "big words" vocabulary list gratuitously). Donnie realizes that they are both playing the same "pretending to be smart" game and goes to warn Ren that the producer isn't as smart as she claims to be.
  • In a Friends episode, Joey memorized details about all the artwork in a gallery, then messed it up as he got left and right confused. And in another episode, whilst writing a letter to an adoption agency, he used an online thesaurus to increase his vocabulary, except he used it for almost every single word. "Big hearts" become "oversized aortic pumps" and so on.
    • He also bought an encyclopedia but could only afford the letter 'V'. He started a conversation about Vietnam, but was quickly lost when the topic morphed to the current situation with North Korea.
  • Maxwell Smart from the Get Smart series did this all the time, to everyone. He didn't always have someone to help him feign competence either, and on those occasions got found out quite quickly.
  • Homicide: Life on the Street: Wicked Pretentious white supremacist Gordon Pratt puts up the act of being an educated, intellectual genius. He frequently brings up obscure facts (which he gets wrong) and casually spurts out extremely racist statements while claiming they are backed up with scientific evidence. Pembleton takes him down a peg by revealing that Pratt is actually a high school dropout who flunked every class, and gives him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech about what a pathetic failure he is.
  • In the iCarly episode iQ Carly tries to convince a very intelligent boy she wants to date that she's very knowledgable, via the internet, studying real hard and eventually cheat sheets just to bluff her way through a day.
  • Some of the challenges and punishments in Impractical Jokers will have one or more Jokers pretending to be experts in a particular field. Since the Jokers don't know jack about these fields, their attempts to behave otherwise end up being ridiculous and embarrassing (which is, of course, the whole point).
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Running Gag has Charlie trying to pass himself off as a legal expert by using academic-sounding phrases and random legal jargon he's apparently heard on television.
  • Jessie: Jessie does this in the episode "What A Steal" to impress a guy at the Intellengincia meeting she takes Ravi to.
  • Foggy Dewhurst from Last of the Summer Wine had more or less convinced himself that he knew everything. On one occasion, he convinced himself that he knew what a "Loxley Lozenge" was and simply needed to bring it to the front of his mind. He thought it was a cough drop. Turns out it was a very rare automobile. He then stubbornly tried to convince the others that "cough drop" was a code, and while they weren't fooled, he did manage to fool himself.
  • Kelly Bundy from Married... with Children used the Nerd Glasses/"profound" babble combo to impress a smart guy.
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show: Ted Baxter used to pull this one off with regularity — one instance in particular stands out.
    Ted's son: Mother, I abhor you!
    Ted: Now son, I'll have none of that language in this house!
  • "Aaaaaah, Bach!" In an early episode of M*A*S*H, Radar pursues an intellectually-inclined nurse with a handful of bluffs provided to him by Hawkeye and Trapper. Incidentally, the book The Bluffer's Guide to Music recommends that exact phrase.
  • The borderline mentally disabled Randy in My Name Is Earl seems to be really good at this, once befriending a bunch of business men, getting a job and earning a lot of money in less than a day with just the help of a second-hand suit.
  • The Office (UK): In one episode, Brent is trying to impress the new intern with his knowledge, but the intern keeps referencing things he doesn't know anything about. Later, Brent will reappear and start spouting facts about the topic that he's obviously just memorized off the internet. Each time, however, the intern will transition into another topic Brent doesn't know about.
  • As did Lisa Turtle in an episode of Saved by the Bell (source of the "Art" quote). She is a bit smarter than most of the other characters in this trope, but still has a little too much air between the ears than is good for her.
  • In the Shake it Up episode "Opposites Attracts It Up", CeCe starts dating a science nerd named James and forces Rocky to help her in Playing Cyrano to be more at his level. CeCe does this again in a later episode when she goes on a date with a blind guy who is also too smart for her and pretends to like whatever he likes.
  • Marcus Henderson on Smart Guy will occasionally do this if he's trying to impress some artsy, intellectual girl, which usually results in his gifted brother TJ Playing Cyrano for him. In one case, the girl in question was also Feigning Intelligence and turned out to be as shallow as Marcus (Marcus had earlier botched some of TJ's advice during a date at an art museum, but the girl took everything he said at face value because she was as out of her depth as he was), and when the two learn that they were both faking it, they drop the act and go out on a normal date together.
  • The Suite Life of Zack & Cody: London hires Maddie to help her pull Playing Cyrano on a hot merit scholar, Trevor. The plan backfires when Maddie can't restrain herself from getting into a debate over politics with him, culminating in a Slap-Slap-Kiss. Fortunately, London seems more confused than hurt.
  • Double Subverted with Eugene in The Walking Dead. While not a CDC researcher who can cure the virus as he claims to be for most of his first arc, he has nonetheless proven himself to be a Jack of All Trades, a master of Xanatos Speed Chess, and very, very good at solving potentially deadly lateral thinking puzzles. It seems increasingly clear that both before and after the Zombie Apocalypse, the only thing keeping him from achieving true Renaissance Man status has been a complete lack of unfeigned self-confidence. Well, that and some... moderate coordination issues.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • "You see, I come from a highly educated university. So when I come out here and speak to these white trash, I gotta dumb myself down." That said, Scott Steiner does seem to be fairly educated and knowledgeable, demonstrating understanding of many scientific theories and the ability to complete complicated mathematical equations even if his constant geographical failures and logical fallacies prove him nowhere near as intelligent as he make himself out to be.

    Puppet Shows 
  • In The Muppet Show, Sam the Eagle may constantly seek to bring some culture in the show, but considering he thinks Beethoven was a playwright, it's obvious he doesn't know the first thing about culture.

  • Our Miss Brooks: In "Magazine Articles", Miss Brooks enlists Walter Denton to masquerade as her nonexistent fourteen year old quiz kid son. Miss Brooks had written an fictional article for "True Family Romance" magazine about her quiz kid son, and needed to prove the story was true in order to collect her payment. Hilarity Ensues, especially as Mr. Conklin gets involved...

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: A high Charisma and lots of ranks in Bluff can make up for not having the right Knowledge skill or a high enough Intelligence in social settings.
  • Any game of Paranoia has to have multiple examples of this. And of course any example of this is a Commie Mutant Plot. Please report to your local termination booth or you will be terminated.

  • Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon. He pretends to know a lot more about Mormonism than he really does, especially once he's sent on his mission with the much more devout Elder Price. But when that doesn't work, Cunningham isn't above a few in-universe Ass Pulls to help the people of Uganda connect more with the Mormon texts. It's later revealed that Elder Cunningham also had to resort to this because he's never read a single word of the Book of Mormon, meaning he managed to feign intelligence through his entire upbringing. This is foreshadowed when Cunningham admits to Price that his biggest flaw is that he's a Compulsive Liar.invoked

    Video Games 
  • At one point in Anachronox, the party has to board a ship to a planet of scientists, and the passengers all have to prove they are up on the latest scientific discoveries. This is a problem for the very Book Dumb Sly, who can't even spell the name of the planet the game is named after. He ends up having to fake speaking a made-up language so that his Robot Buddy (who downloaded a database on cutting edge research) can "translate" the correct answers for him.
  • The player can become this in the original Fallout and Fallout 2 by taking the Smooth Talker perk. Each level of the perk increases their effective intelligence attribute for the purposes of dialogue choices only. So in other words, the player does not actually become smarter, they just sound smarter than they actually are when they talk.
  • Fallout: New Vegas:
    • A man named Fantastic convinces the local government that he can repair a nearby power plant. When asked if he's studied theoretical physics, he says "I have a theoretical degree in physics". No one who's ever met him has fallen for his act, and killing him in broad daylight won't anger anyone else in the room, or in the game for that matter. You can even blackmail him into paying you so that he can keep his job since he needs to support his drug addictions somehow. If you manage to bring the plant back to power in favor of the NCR, he can be found in Hoover Dam later on as the "Goddamn Dam God".
    • Similarly, there's Ricky in the beginning of the Honest Hearts DLC, who brags about how awesome he is. With sufficiently high skills, you can not only point out how his Pip-Boy is broke, but that he's obviously a drug addict and how the details of his stories are completely inaccurate (for example, having an "11mm SMG" and having killed "Deathjaws"). You can either get him to scram or blackmail him into carrying more of your stuff.
  • Final Fantasy VII Remake: Beck, the leader of the street gang, Beck's Badasses, often uses big, fancy words to sound impressive, but he doesn't actually know what they mean. The only people he fools are his subordinates, who are even dumber than he is.
  • Wheatley from Portal 2. Highlights include "using a manual override on this wall", playing classical music to convince GLaDOS of his intelligence, claiming to have read every book in existence and claiming the "ace of fours" is the best hand of cards, among several others.
  • In Star Control 3, the K'tang species tries very hard to look powerful and intelligent. They fail miserably at the latter.
  • Whisper from Yo-kai Watch wasn't completely like this at the startnote  in the first game, but would eventually fell in line with the anime's depiction of him with Yo-kai Watch 2.

    Visual Novels 
  • In The Eden of Grisaia Thanatos gives all the girls instructions to follow, some of them more obvious or helpful than others based on their abilities. Michiru, who has no abilities in particular, is told to meet up with a shady contract in a restaurant. Fittingly, she hides her ditziness with a more dignified front and goes through a long Chain of Deals from buying 1000 yen worth of discarded cellphones and reselling the rare metals inside to multiple flights around the world throughout the day until she's completely lost. Throughout the entire thing she pretends to be clever and knowledgeable while following instructions from her phone, but by the time she gets to Indonesia she thinks she's in India and more or less gives up.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner: In the Strong Bad Email "stupid stuff", Strong Bad tries to win a bet with a viewer by getting Homestar to say something intelligent, even dressing him up with a lab coat, glasses, and a test tube. ("Check it out, Strong Bad, I look a-smart!" "You sure do, stupid.") However, Homestar managed to turn it around on him and get Strong Bad to say something stupid.
    Homestar:"The Grumblecakes will be mine!"
  • Simmons from Red vs. Blue is zigzagging with this trope. While he is the Unofficial Science Officer of the series and good with computers, he's also been stated to be less intelligent than he thinks he is and will abuse the fact that the people around him are either too lazy, stupid or insane to call him out on making stuff up.
    Simmons: If you want me to multiply two big numbers in my head, that I can do.
    Grif: What's thirty-two times fifty-six?note 
    Simmons: Thirty-one thousand, four-hundred fifty-two.
    Sarge: (towards Simmons) Is that right?
    Simmons: Yes.

  • Subverted in Bob and George: Mega Man did this by making up a totally random and Techno Babble-filled solution to the series' major time-line issues, and, totally by accident, made a discovery worthy of a Nobel prize. He thought everybody else was just making fun of him.
  • This page of mezzacotta — yes, even pseudorandomly generated speech bubbles mock this pseudorandom garbage.
  • Misfile. Debate continues on whether Rumisiel is genuinely admitting Feigning Intelligence or displaying Obfuscating Stupidity to maintain his image in this strip.
  • xkcd:
    • This comic indicates that there are some topics where you can get away with it.
    • This quote demonstrating what a politician trying to get away with knowing little outside of rehearsed "hot topics" can run into.

    Web Video 
  • Stoogeposting: In "The Three Stooges challenge God," Curly claims he's been going to church a lot, so Moe asks him to name all ten commandments. Curly's improvises an incredibly wrong answer, saying things like "the right to bear arms" ("That's what Moses said!") and "tie your left shoe," but Moe doesn't know any better and can't call his bluff.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!: In the episode "The Long Bomb," arena football player Johnny Concussion fakes his own death and hatches a plot to steal his jersey back from the owner of the Bazooka Sharks after he was kicked from the team due to his numerous head injuries. He disguises himself as a goateed criminal mastermind who speaks eloquently, even though Johnny's normal speech has been noticeably slowed by his concussions.
  • Family Guy:
    • Peter Griffin becomes convinced he's a genius, but needless to say fails at acting the part. For example, he misapplies "shallow and pedantic," a phrase he heard two political pundits using, to criticize Lois's cooking.
    • Brian becomes this in the series' post-cancellation episodes (Season 4 to the present time), but in a far more insufferable way. While certainly very intelligent for an animal (seeing as how he can talk, walk on two legs, get a job, drive a car, etc.) and definitely has a lot more common sense than some of the human characters on the show (especially when compared to Peter), it's clear that Brian's nowhere near as intelligent/sophisticated as he likes to think he is. To elaborate:
      • He uses words he doesn't know the meaning of and/or acts like he knows something when he clearly doesn't.
      • Often claims that he reads things like "classic" literature but is almost never shown reading any kind of books.
      • Dates Brainless Beauties to make himself feel more intelligent than he actually is.
      • He's just a general, all-around hypocrite (which he's often called out on, especially in later episodes).
  • The Simpsons: Homer Simpson chooses to wear a pair of nerd glasses that were dropped in the toilet by Henry Kissinger. Unbeknownst to Homer, Mr. Burns then assumes he's an egghead and decides not to fire him during a round of job cuts.

    Real Life 
  • One of the reasons thought to have contributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates' execution was that he went around pissing off people in power (such as politicians, and, more drastically, religious figures) by asserting they were doing this.
  • There are known garbage texts that can pass as "scientific" in nonsense-rich environments and really made it to the respective journals or conferences...including automatically generated ones. If you want to hunt impostor "scientists" in comfort using a robot decoy-duck—go ahead, it works.
    • Social Text published Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity article (It claimed to be about using quantum theories of gravity to stick it to The Man) which turned out to be a parody made of statements specifically designed to be solipsist nonsense and logically disconnected claims. note  Papers by Alan Sokal has the full story, papers and a simple recipe how to bake such a cake at will.
    • WMSCI 2005 accepted an article Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy, which is a pile of robot-generated garbage. Then guys went to that conference, held a "technical" session and with straight faces gave several more randomly generated garbage speeches. There's a story, papers, movie — and SCIgen itself, released under GPL.
    • Here you can get random Postmodernism texts online, and even permanent links note  to the particular essay, if you liked it.
  • Any agenda-based statistics study. I.e., if they're paid to prove a causal link exists instead of determine if one does, they will use this.
  • There is a psychological term for feigning intelligence. This is called illusory superiority and is a cognitive bias that makes people overestimate their positive qualities and abilities and underestimate their negative ones relative to others.
  • The Dunning-Kruger Effect is when "people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it", or as phrases it: "a shortcut in the brain that makes people suck at figuring out they suck." To test the Dunning-Kruger effect, two men named David Dunning and Justin Kruger ran a series of experiments and published the results in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in December 1999. What they found was that “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” Specifically they concluded: (1) Incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill. (2) Incompetent individuals fail to recognize genuine skill in others. (3) Incompetent individuals fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy. (4) If they can be trained to substantially improve their own skill level, these individuals can recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill.
  • A Miss Teen USA contestant went viral after bungling a response to a political question by responding with a word salad of academic-sounding phrases while clearly having no idea what she was talking about.
  • Sadly a reasonably common trait among Politicians the world over. After all, words are cheap and thus spent freely, and Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness is fairly common in politic speech, as it's used to mask intentions behind flowery language. Of course, this usually backfires heavily when someone who understands the words they use into layman's terms.
  • A frequent problem in job interviews. Candidates may want to make themselves look as good as possible, so they say they have experience with a technology or responsibility that they're actually not familiar with, or that they've read the company's website or certain trade publications when they really haven't. Seasoned interviewers know how to ask further questions and expose the candidate's true lack of knowledge, often leading to I've Heard of That — What Is It? scenarios. Interviewers aren't necessarily always looking for the candidate who has extensive experience in every conceivable area of interest, but for the candidate who is honest about their strengths, weaknesses, and past experiences, and expresses a willingness to learn new things. This is one reason companies make hiring decisions based on face-to-face interviews at all: it's fairly easy to bullshit your qualifications on a resume or an employment application, and a lot harder to bullshit live and in real time when the interviewer can make note of your body language, cadence, and tone of voice.


Video Example(s):


A Tale of Two Teams

Princess Amber tries to convince the Dazzleball team she knows how to coach the game, none are buying it.

How well does it match the trope?

3.67 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / FeigningIntelligence

Media sources: