Tuesday, October 10, 2017

David Brooks and SNOOTs

Writing in The New York Times today about a forthcoming book by Alan Jacobs, David Brooks mentions David Foster Wallace:

Jacobs notices that when somebody uses “in other words” to summarize another’s argument, what follows is almost invariably a ridiculous caricature of that argument, in order to win favor with the team. David Foster Wallace once called such people Snoots. Their motto is, “We Are the Few, the Proud, the More or Less Constantly Appalled at Everyone Else.”
No, Mr. Brooks, no.

In the essay “Authority and American Usage,” Wallace glosses SNOOT (all caps) as his “nuclear family’s nickname for a really extreme usage fanatic.” The acronym stands for “Sprachgefühl Necessitates Our Ongoing Tendance” or “Syntax Nudniks Of Our Time.” SNOOT has nothing to do with caricaturing other people’s arguments and winning favor with a team. The acronym applies to those who obsess over matters of grammar and usage, those who know how to hyphenate phrasal adjectives and who sneer at “10 ITEMS OR LESS.” As Wallace points out in the essay, “the word may be slightly self-mocking.” Wallace identified as a SNOOT, and his spoof of the USMC slogan (“the Few, the Proud, the More or Less Constantly Appalled at Everyone Else”) is further evidence of self-mockery. He wasn’t calling other people SNOOTs. He was writing about himself.

And as Wallace said in a radio interview, “to be a SNOOT is a lonely, stressful way to be.”

Related reading
All OCA David Foster Wallace posts (Pinboard)

[“Authority and American Usage” appears in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (New York: Little, Brown, 2005). The essay appeared in a shorter form in Harper’s as “Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage.” The examples concerning phrasal adjectives and supermarket signage are from the essay. Using Amazon’s Look Inside tool to search How to Think returns no results for david foster wallace or snoot, so I’m ascribing the error to Brooks. And yes, I’m sending a correction to the Times.]

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