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The question

My sister’s husband is a complete “know-it-all,” to the point where we’ve started calling him “Encyclopedia Dan” (not his real name), a nickname I think he secretly relishes. What makes it truly difficult and annoying is that he does know quite a bit. But he can also be dead wrong. Either way he sounds so pompously sure of himself that it’s infuriating. He has this schoolmasterish way of speaking sometimes that you just want to show him up somehow. It’s even come to the point a couple of times during a heated debate over the dinner table I’ve bet him over certain facts. But every time I’ve bet him I’ve lost, which is a hard pill to swallow. And then he’ll insist (always in front of others, of course) that I pay. If it so happens I don’t have the money, he’ll loudly say something like: “Oh, isn’t that convenient.” Joking, but also trying to stick it to me. Help, Dave! What can I do to put him in his place?

The answer

The “know-it-all” is an interesting type – a “rum type,” as the Brits might say of an “odd sort”.

As an aside, “Why do any of us need to opine, really, on any topic, or spout facts, over the dinner tables of the world, ever at all?” I’ve often wondered.

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And I say this in full knowledge of the fact I’m an advice columnist in a newspaper – newspapers being known (obviously) as purveyors of many facts and opinions.

“I mean,” I might continue (at, say, a dinner party: and believe me I’m aware how hypocritical this all is), “it’s not like NORAD or NATO or the White House or Parliament Hill has urgently contacted us on some sort of hotline in desperate need of our opinion.”

And yet … people continue to opine; to contend; to fill the air with facts and factoids on a non-hotline basis. They have their thoughts, whether well- or ill-informed; and intend to air them, come what may.

Some, it always amazes me, are so filled with certainty of their point of view that they consider their opinions “facts.” They will affix you with what I have dubbed a “Vegas mesmerist” stare, their hair beautifully coiffed, dressed for success, and say things like: “Dave [or Whomever], here’s why the election will turn out exactly the way I’ve predicted.”

And la la la. How the hell do they know? Where do they get the confidence of their opinions? Go ask it on the mountain.

The only way I can think of dealing with such characters is to quietly absorb such information they spout as may be pertinent and useful to oneself; and simply set aside/ignore/let wash over you that which seems irrelevant/dilatory/not to your way of thinking.

“Encyclopedia Dan” would probably love to debate the various issues and factoids he fills the air with; and certainly if you care to do so, then do so. It will fill the time, be fun and whatnot.

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But in the interests of peace and harmony, I’d just nod and smile quietly to myself and let “Encyclopedia Dan” preach into the night.

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