Delusions of grandeur: talking about people with a high opinion of themselves

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by Liz Walter

My last post talked about words for describing levels of confidence.  This post looks specifically at some of the colourful derogatory phrases to describe people who are over-confident or have a very high opinion of themselves.

Someone who has delusions of grandeur thinks they are more important than they really are, while someone who thinks the world revolves around them believes that their needs and wishes are more important than anyone else’s:

Have you seen his massive new office? I think he has delusions of grandeur.

Why does Laura expect us to wait for her? She seems to think the world revolves around her.

There are some particular phrases for people who, in your opinion, don’t behave in a way that is suitable for their low position in life. For example, we might say that someone is getting above himself/herself, or describe them as jumped-up:

He thought his driver was getting above himself and decided to teach him a lesson.

She’s just a jumped-up waitress who thinks she knows how to run a restaurant.

There are several phrases for people who have a very high opinion of their own abilities. If someone thinks they are God’s gift to something, they think they are very good at something, or extremely attractive. If someone is too big for their boots (UK)/britches (US), they think they are more important or talented than they really are. We might also describe such people as big-headed:

My brother thinks he’s God’s gift to women.

She’s a good singer, but she’s starting to get too big for her boots.

I don’t want to sound big-headed, but I was top of my year in most subjects.

Someone who is high and mighty behaves in an arrogant way, as if they are better than other people. If they act as if they own the place, they behave as if they are very important and can do anything they like, and if they do something without so much as a by your leave, they do it rudely, without asking for permission:

She doesn’t need to act so high and mighty – why can’t she just ask us politely if she wants something?

They helped themselves to food as if they owned the place.

He came in and flung all the windows open without so much as a by your leave.

This is just a selection of phrases for people who are too arrogant – I’m sure some readers will be able to think of more. I’ll finish with a nice idiom for dealing with such people. If we take someone down a peg or two, we do something to show them that they aren’t as important as they think they are:

Paul had been boasting about his sporting skills, so his friends decided to take him down a peg or two.

10 thoughts on “Delusions of grandeur: talking about people with a high opinion of themselves

    1. Liz Walter

      Someone humble isn’t proud, and they don’t think they are better than other people. Humble has a couple of other related meanings – have a look at the Cambridge dictionary on this site.

  1. Dieter Walz

    Hi Liz,

    I always enjoy your posts.
    As a non-English native speaker I am trying to express myself not only
    to make me understand but to give my words a more British flair.
    Your posts are really helpful in that respect. Thanks for it.


    1. Md Arafath Zaman

      Liz Walter is a freelance lexicographer and writer, living in Cambridge, UK. She worked for many years on Cambridge University Press’s range of ELT dictionaries and now works with Kate Woodford on dictionaries and other books about the English language. Her other interests include politics, growing vegetables, and family holidays in her camper van. She tweets at @LizJWalter, … thank you so much @LizJWalter for your incredible dedication and extraordinary contribution.

  2. Vinod Kale

    As usual out of the box vocabulary and expressions.
    I am an English teacher, reading your article enhances my area of teaching.
    Hats off to you for your exemplary contribution in making English easy to understand.

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