The term “ultracrepidario” has returned in vogue in recent years to identify a type of person who – far from being in danger of extinction – nowadays we meet more and more often. We are talking about those who always feel compelled to express their opinion, especially on topics that go beyond their knowledge.
Those who are never silent, who constantly correct us, who bestow good advice at every opportunity and who think they have understood everything about life. But above all, those who never know who is really competent in a particular area.
Sometimes language holds surprises for us and turns out to be much richer than we think, especially when we have to define behaviors that we often see. Ultracrepidarianism is undoubtedly a particularly complicated word to remember and even to pronounce. However, it is a term that, as we will see, has very ancient origins and is very widespread.
It exists in English ( ultracrepidarianism ), in French ( ultracrepidanisme ), in Bosnian ( ultrakrepidarianizam ) … A sign that the whole world is a country, and populated by too many people with an almost obsessive tendency to comment and give advice on topics that are often difficult to understand. Let’s not get it wrong, though: we all have the full right to express our opinion on any topic.
However, knowing how to do it with humility, starting from the necessary awareness that every field of human knowledge cannot be mastered, says a lot about us. For this, it is not surprising that the behavior of the subject
is a much discussed topic in the field of psychology. Let’s find out why.
: who is he, and why does he behave like this?
If we are commenting on the splendid images of the hidden face of the moon, which we have recently been able to see thanks to the Chinese probe Chang’e-4 , the ultracrepidarian on duty will come up with a theory worthy of Carl Sagan. If we discuss politics, we’ll see him ready there in the pulpit, waiting to throw himself into a Winston Churchill monologue.
It makes no difference whether it’s football, economics or quantum physics, it will always be there, ready to show you how much it knows.
The ultracrepidarians have answers for everything. They do not know how to keep quiet, nor are they aware of their own limitations and, what is worse, they do not know how to respect others. They always want to stand out, at any cost, and that’s why they don’t hesitate to put us in a bad light.
If we ask ourselves what the precise origin of this word is, we must go back to Apelles of Kos, a famous Greek painter who lived in the fourth century BC. The story goes that the artist, Alexander the Great’s favorite, was working on one of his works when a shoemaker entered his workshop to leave an order. Upon seeing the paintings and frescoes, the man began to criticize the details.
Faced with those comments, Apelles of Kos rebuked him: “Ne supra crepidam sutor iudicaret” ( May the cobbler no longer judge up on the shoe ). Hence the Latin phrase “Sutor, ne ultra crepidam!”.
The ultracrepidaries and the Dunning-Kruger effect
The ultracrepidarians act on a very basic principle: the less they know, the more they think they know something. This relationship responds to what is known in psychology as the “Dunning-Kruger effect”.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a very common cognitive bias whereby people with limited cognitive and intellectual abilities tend (on average, but not in all cases) to overestimate their abilities.
Social psychology and some studies, such as those conducted by psychologists Marian Krak and Andreas Ortman of the University of Berlin, have highlighted interesting aspects. First of all, the ultracrepidarians can even reach positions of power.
In fact, in our society, some people occupy positions for which they do not have sufficient skills. Yet, thanks to their exaggerated self-esteem and the outgoing and resolute attitude they display, they can reach positions that other more qualified ones do not get.
Never underestimate an ultracrepidarian
There are ultracrepidaries who have gone down in history with their behavior. Most famous, for example, is the case of McArthur Wheeler, a man who robbed a Pittsburgh bank in 1990. When the authorities arrested him, he was very surprised because he was convinced they could not see him.
In fact, he claimed to have applied lemon juice to his face and body to make himself invisible. It is clear that the young Wheeler suffered from a psychological disorder, but the conviction with which he explained the effect of lemon juice on his alleged invisibility attracted the attention of experts.
Beyond borderline cases like this, though, there is something worth being clear about: ultracrepidarians are capable of doing harm. Having a father, a sister, a boss or a neighbor who is obsessed with criticizing everything, always ready to belittle our abilities or to point out what we say can lead to great psychological stress.
The ideal is not to fall into their provocations. However, when you are forced to live with an ultracrepidarian every day, more drastic measures are needed to curb their meddling. Making it clear, for example, that the behavior is harmful and offensive could be a strategy. Another solution, undoubtedly more extreme, may be to keep as far away as possible from individuals of this kind. While it may seem exaggerated, we need to consider this option .