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 in the world. Snobbery crosses all boundaries: There are grammar snobs, toothpick snobs, film snobs (those are the ones who never use the word “movie”), 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. Don’t tell me I should eschew design for durability or renounce style for sustainability.
And I’m most certainly 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, but I’m sleeping on high thread-count, all-cotton sateen. If they want to take that away from me, they'll have to pry it out of my cool, well-rested hands.
Even as a kid, I bought my clothes at thrift shops instead of department stores because I preferred a 20-year-old silk dress to a brand-new polyester pantsuit.
Other folks are snobs about beer, cereal, chocolate, kitty litter (“Never would I force my cats to use generic,” says Helen), wine, pens, lip liner, toilet tissue, music, the writing of computer code, napkins (paper as well as fabric), fonts, fruit (“heirloom tomatoes are serious business,” says a produce aficionado), jewelry, cameras, maple syrup, mustard, pillows and pizza.
Actually, many people are snobs about food, but 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 (as if you’re surprised … ) and came into use in the early 1800s. Although there are various theories surrounding its origin, the most persuasive one is that the nonaristocratic 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 nonaristocrats 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. Nor did the aristocrats need to be intelligent, well-mannered or humane. Relieved of any need to earn their right to be treated with respect, the landed gentry inherited their seat at the table, and whether they ate with silver spoons or shoved food into their mouths with fists, it was all the same.
In contrast, the poorer young men, who aspired to be recognized as peers (only metaphorically, of course) by their grander classmates, sought to garner esteem by flourishing their expertise on a special subject.
It wasn’t pretty then and it’s not pretty now. I bet you’ve never heard someone say, “Oh, she’s wonderful company! She’s such a snob!”
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. (Yes, people have that about toilet tissue.)
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, a feminist scholar who has written eight books, and a columnist for the Hartford Courant. She can be reached through her www.ginabarreca.com.