too clever by half

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too clever by half

  1. (idiomatic, of a person, plan, theory, etc.) Shrewd but flawed by overthinking or excessive complexity, with a resulting tendency to be unreliable or unsuccessful.
    • 1890, Henry James, chapter 47, in The Tragic Muse:
      [H]e had a damnable suppleness and a gift of immediate response, a readiness to oblige, that made him seem to take up causes which he really left lying, enabled him to learn enough about them in an hour to have all the air of having converted them to his use. . . . He was at all events too clever by half, since this pernicious overflow had wrecked most of his attempts.
    • 1914, E. W. Hornung, chapter 8, in The Crime Doctor:
      The poor devil was too clever by half, and made a big mistake for each of his strokes of genius.
    • 1993 March 21, Robert Dallek, “Roosevelt Unbound”, in The New York Times[1], →ISSN:
      Historians generally agree that Roosevelt was too clever by half, and that he miscalculated badly in assuming that he had the political muscle to alter the size of the Court.
    • 2011 April 28, David Prosser, “Did Barclays' own executives see the bank coming?”, in The Independent[2]:
      Still, the thing about being just a little too clever by half is that it tends to catch up with you.
    • 2017 October 20, Katharine Murphy, “At least for once, don't let politicking kill off a workable energy policy”, in The Guardian[3], →ISSN:
      As Combet pointed out in 2009, that sort of too-clever-by-half politicking can get you into trouble. It can sink the boat you really want to sail.