Snobbery, like snoring, is universal. You might believe it doesn’t apply to you, but your intimates would tell a different story.
Don’t get huffy: Everybody’s a snob about something.
Snobs are those who imagine that their sensibilities, tastes or responses in a specific arena are more discriminating, more informed and more exacting than anyone else’s.
You’re a snob; I am, too. It doesn’t matter what class you were born into or what status you hold. Snobbery crosses all boundaries: There are grammar snobs, toothpick snobs, film snobs, gun snobs, soap snobs, humor snobs, art snobs, gas snobs, shoe-shine snobs and God snobs.
My father made bedspreads and curtains, which turned me into a snob about fabric. I’ve never been able to order clothes from a catalog or website because I need to feel the weave, touch the fibers and see if the design is woven or printed.
And I’m not sleeping on sheets made from repurposed tires or recycled candy wrappers even if it’s good for the planet. I will help the planet in other ways.
Many people are snobs about food, particularly Italian food. “I won’t eat any pizza that’s not my mother’s, and I won’t eat any sauce that’s not my own,” says my friend Yvonne. Now, that’s a snob: Someone who believes that she is so entirely an expert on the topic of pizza and red sauce that she regards as automatically inferior any version created by someone who does not share her DNA.
The word “snob” is imported from England and came into use in the early 1800s. Although there are various theories surrounding its origin, the most persuasive one is that the non-aristocratic students attending Oxford and Cambridge were identified as such by the Latin words “sine nobilitate” (“without nobility”), which, when scribbled by lazy or hurried academicians into the margins of administrative paperwork, were shortened to “s.nob.”
Naturally, it was the non-aristocrats who emerged as what we now think of as snobs; the real gentry had no need to put on airs, prove their worth or strive to appear superior in any arena. In contrast, the poorer young men sought to garner esteem by flourishing their expertise on a special subject. At its best, snobbery can be glossed as having cultivated a thoughtful and unapologetically judicious or exclusive perception, one inaccessible except to those other initiates who have curated a fine sense of selectivity.
At its worst, it’s ruthless fault-finding pedantry that, when combined with an arrogant contempt for those who have a cruder or more promiscuous sense of appreciation, hobbles an individual’s high horse to the point where one is immobilized by one’s own lack of perspective.
You can, of course, be a snob about not being a snob. But really – are you that different from everybody else?
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut.