The usage of the verb snob

Le verbe snober vient du nom anglais snob, emprunté par le français. Mais il ne se dit pas snob en anglais — je parle toujours du verbe —, mais snub. Peu surprenant que certains anglophones s’y perdent. Et même plus que ça : on trouve une foule de formations verbales faites à partir de snob, toutes absentes des dictionnaires.

When the sentence “He [Karl Marx] would probably snob his nose at it [blogging]” flickered by me on IRC some hours ago, I just thought that this was a nice blend of snob n., snub v. and the idiom turn up one’s nose at sth., possibly influenced by the semantically less pertinent snub-nosed. The pure eggcorn snub»snob was bound to be out there, so I set out to find cites and enter it into the Eggcorn Database.

Boy, I got more than I had bargained for. Not only is snob v. tr. a frequent eggcorn, it has also entered certain slangs and dialects, as in this example from the Wingham Chronicle, an Australian paper, talking about sheep shearers in the outback:

  • Good pen mates will share the sheep and work together as a team but as Rod explains […] if you draw a ‘Hungry’ pen mate and he ‘snobs you’ (goes to the back of the pen and picks all the best sheep) your count for the day could be severely affected, or you’d have to work your guts out to give him the same medicine to stop him from ‘snobbing the hell out of you’! (link)

Unsurprising, really — after all, snub so. is snober quelqu’un in French, derived from the borrowed snob.

But the example also contains snob the hell out of so., which, it turns out, opens a whole nother can of fish. In the sense behave like a snob, or close to it, transitive, intransitive or with a prepositional complement, I found snob so. off, snob so. away, snob it, snob so. into sth. and snob at sth.. And then there are the totally non-eggcornish derivatives of snob n.: out-snob so., de-snob, snob sth. up , and the adjectives snobbed up and snobbed out .

Wow. This is truly one of the more versatile English verbs I’ve come across lately. And it’s not even in the dictionaries I’ve checked.#[1]

If you want the whole story with examples, read the Eggcorn Database entry.

[1]: NSOED has snob v. i., marked “obsolete”, as a variant of snub in the sense “sob”.

Commercial ties

J’ai reçu du spam d’un important éditeur qui m’a demandé de publier des liens vers des articles publiés sur son site. Il se trouve que ces articles sont sans aucun doute d’un grand intérêt pour les amateurs de la linguistique. Or, leur propositon de faire de la pub gratuite pour eux me semble rien d’autre qu’une campagne de spam ciblée, vaguement insultante d’ailleurs.

From Anggarrgoon:

I was contacted today [on a recipients suppressed list] by email by a fairly large publisher who was drawing my attention to some articles with a linguistic theme on their site. They were suggesting that I post links to their site. It’s an interesting type of product placement. I will be intrigued to see a) if anyone does, in fact, take them up on their offer, and b) whether they say how they came by the link.

I received what I presume was the same e-mail. It gave me a pause, and I’d considered blogging it even before I saw the post on Anggarrgoon.

Regardless of the articles being without any doubt of linguistic interest, this e-mail was no better than spam in my opinion. I’m running this blog as a non-commercial project. Ads on general-interest sites happen to annoy me, which is why I don’t even want any ads over at the Eggcorn Database, where they would arguably be more justified than on my private playground.

But even if I were open to forging commercial ties, the proper thing would have been to propose payment. The publisher in question can certainly afford it and does advertise in other venues. There is a huge difference between another non-commercial blogger approaching me about some interesting stuff they have written or made available, and a media magnate doing so.

Beyond these matters of principle I felt insulted. See, my interest in language and linguistics currently has no more than very rare and occasional ties to my livelihood. On some levels there are only very few things I’d like more than for this to change — and the reasons it doesn’t are, as these things go, personal and complicated — but as things stand my interests have arguably done more harm than good to my professional outlook. Without breaking out into foul language, I am annoyed that a rich company doesn’t exercise proper care about whom they are asking to do their free advertising. The culture of mutual back-scratching is a pernicious thing, for those of us outside the back-scratching circuit. So no, Sir, I won’t scratch yours, thank you very much, and in particular not for free. You may claim that you “have been reading my site and enjoying it”, but allow me to have some doubts about that as well.

The links have, by the way, been posted on BoingBoing, where a certain Kestrell is credited with recommending them. I’m going to forward a link to this post and to Anggarrgoon’s, to make BoingBoing aware of the spammy context in which they are being promoted. In any case, by getting boingboinged, the goal of the e-mail has been more than achieved.

The Eggcorn Database has its own forum now. I also made some changes to the posting rules. Oh, and we’ve managed to pass the threshold of 500 eggcorns this month.

Sometimes apparently simple entries can turn out to be more complex than meets the eye. Yesterday, Kaz Vorpal entered the substitution of flounder v. for founder v. This one had been suggested several times and is cited in many collections of usage advice, but I always resisted entering it. I saw it as an example of a confusion about which is which among two “complicated” words. (My rule of thumb for eggcorns: a “difficult” word is replaced with an “easy” one.) So I edited Kaz’ entry accordingly. But Arnold Zwicky didn’t agree, and he had the data to show that some people think of flounder, the fish:

In fact, some people have explained to me that “flounder” is the word to use, because a ship in this sort of distress flops about like a fish — a flounder, in particular — out of water. The association with flounder (the fish) seems to be unetymological: OED2 labels it “of obscure etymology”, suggests various non-fishy sources, and gives as its earliest sense the not particularly fish-related ’stumble’ (attested from 1592). But then the sense extended to ’struggle violently and clumsily, struggle in mire’ and the way was open for comparison to a flopping flounder. (Suspiciously, several of the OED2’s citations actually mention fish.)

Now wouldn’t that make for a great borrowing into German, where the fish is called Flunder?#[1] Herumflundern (gloss: flounder about/around) has a great sound to it.#[2] And indeed, at least one person has had the idea already:

  • Das Problem scheint in der Tatsache zu liegen, dass wir irgendwo mittendrin stecken, und herumflundern wie ein Fisch ausserhalb des Wassers. (link)
    [The problem seems to lie in the fact that we are stuck somewhere in the middle of this, and are floundering about like a fish out of water.]

And there seems to be a dialectal German verb, flundern, which I’m not familiar with.

[1]: Much, much better than what the Deutsche Bahn, the German railway company, does with their “InfoPoints” , “Economy Vierer” compartments, “Bahn & Bike” trains and the “BahnCard Teen” (a travel pass for 12 to 17 year olds). [2]: And it’s an occupation I’ve been getting much practice in lately. I’m starting to suspect short-term memory problems, but that’s another topic.

What’s wrong with CAPTCHAs, apart from the accessibility problem they create? This: Note the snowclone in Erinn’s article title Unreadable captchas considered useless. This is a variant of the “X considered harmful” snowclone — clearly more widespread in the coder community than elsewhere — whose inventor is not Edsger Dijkstra, even though it does go […]

 read the post »

Mellifluous punctuation and somebody else’s umbrella

«The Elements of Style» de William Strunk et E.B. White est, en plus court, à l’anglais américain ce qui est le Grevisse au français. Toute une frange des anglophones instruits, dont un certain nombre de profs, ne jurent que par ce manuel de style et de grammaire.

Malheureusement, les auteurs ont poussé le stalinisme grammatical au point de proscrire des tournures utilisées par les plus grands écrivains depuis des siècles, et s’avèrent occasionnellement incapables de suivre leurs propres conseils. Certains donc, et pas les moindres, vouent le livre aux gémonies et n’ont qu’un désir : qu’il n’eusse jamais été écrit.

Maintenant, une version illustrée par une dessinatrice et auteure de livres pour enfants et un cycle de chants par un jeune compositeur néo-dadaiste font leur apparence sur ce champs de bataille grammaticale et stylistique.

I imagine Geoffrey Pullum has a file on his computer named “Strunk and White adjectives”, and every time he posts about The Elements of Style he chooses a new one and ticks it off as “used”. He’s called the opus a horrid little notebook of nonsense, a stupid little book, a poisonous little collection of […]

 read the post »

[That’s readings, not lectures, mind.] At Language Log, Bill Poser has posted a wonderful introduction to Hangul (한글). Today is Hangul Day, the celebration of the promulgation of the Korean alphabet by King Sejong the Great in 1446. Prior to 1446, the Korean language was rarely written at all. The written language used in Korea […]

 read the post »

Avoiding the asterisks … of avoidance

Quelques remarques au sujet des gros mots dans la presse. Et comment éviter les astérisques d’évitement.

  • 2005-10-07
  • Comments Off

The software upgrade seems to have gone all right (please report any problems you may have with this site). Posting, on the other hand, has been light; mainly because I’m recovering from a particularly tenacious cold/cough/bronchitis, which has me look at the more substantial posts in the pipeline and shake my head in disgust about […]

 read the post »

I am in the process of upgrading to the latest version of WordPress. Given that this blog runs on code that I have edited and expanded in some spots, this might lead to some disruption: in the mildest case, links may not work and post may look funny (in particular the alternate language versions), in […]

 read the post »

Amuse-bouche to zaibatsu

Des entrées nouvelles dans le Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary, l’un des dictionnaires les plus réputés de la langue anglaise.

  • 2005-10-04
  • Comments Off

New entries in the 2005 edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary. I was slightly surprised about the new sense of neoconservative. There must have been some semantic variation over the last few years.

 read the post »

Today’s interminable NPs

Il devrait y avoir une limite supérieure pour les syntagmes nominaux. En voilà deux en anglais, à ne pas imiter.

  • 2005-10-02
  • Comments Off

Here are two really-much-too-long-drawn-out noun phrases I found in today’s idle browsing. The first one is from an AP wire (emphasis mine): An independent commission to oversee coastal restoration and hurricane protection work in Louisiana has been proposed by the Louisiana congressional delegation. It would be called the “Protecting Essential Louisiana Infrastructure, Citizens and […]

 read the post »