In an email discussion on typography, I mistyped smart quotes as smark quotes. One of my colleagues, John Firth, declared it a useful word, “a combination of smart and snarky,” for describing “things that, although worthwhile, are sort of showoff-y, too. Like curly quotation marks.”
Well. I like that. It’s like being smart with a smirk! The mark in it can connect with getting high marks – or with “mark me” in the archaic sense (“look at me”). It might even be a bit smarmy. And surely it’s an attribute of many a shark (of the human kind) – though it sounds rather more like the sound made by a cross between a snake, a duck, and a dog. But, if we’re sticking with animals, I would have to say the key trait of smarkness would be cockiness.
It happens that there is already a word smark in use, though within a limited sphere. That sphere is pro wrestling fandom. In the vocabulary of pro wrestlers, taken right from good old criminal cant that’s been around for more than a quarter millennium, a mark is a gullible person, specifically one who believes that pro wrestling is real, not staged (this would describe me and my brother when we were kids, watching Stampede Wrestling on TV every Saturday – and then my brother would want to try some of those moves out on me… he’s three years older, by the way). This usage comes from mark meaning “target”, which is related to all the other senses of this good old Germanic word (and unrelated to the name Mark). Blend it with smart (another good old Germanic word, meaning first of all “causing pain” – from the verb smart, which we still have – and then proceeding to senses of vigour and acuity and thence to intelligence and looks) and you get a wrestling fan who knows it’s staged, and may in fact pride himself on all his insider knowledge about it (whether he really knows all that much or not), but nonetheless is a fan. A smart mark – a smark. Cocky, perhaps a bit of a pain. Ah, how he may watch the ring with that Weltschmerz of the “in the know,” maybe even a smirk on his face… but let him not forget that, even in the staged fights, there’s a lot of rough-and-tumble and bruising, and a welt (or similar mark) smarts.
So can we use smark to mean “useful but showoffish”? Well, why not, if we can get others to accept it? It rather describes itself, doesn’t it?