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1914, from colloquial verb smalm, smarm "to smear, bedaub" (the hair, with pomade), 1847, of unknown origin, perhaps somehow suggestive of the action. Verbal meaning "to smear with flattery" is from 1902.
Characteristic of the small time; inferior; petty; second-rate; bush league: a small-time political power (1910+ Show business)