Snobbery and Contrarianism


Snob is an interesting word. It's something I have been called before, and something that I have repeatedly denied.

But it seems I was functioning under a misunderstanding of the meaning of the word. To me, a snob has always been a person who pretends to have superiority in a certain field. A traditional snob would be someone who tries to appear more sophisticated than they really are. For example, a beer snob would be someone who acts like they are a beer aficionado, but when it comes down to it, they can't tell the difference between a good IPA and a bad one. A music snob would be someone who claims to have encyclopedic knowledge of music, but can't tell the Rolling Stones from the Bay City Rollers (or perhaps more specifically cannot tell simply by listening 1980s Rolling Stones from early 1970s Rolling Stones).

And when I look in my dictionary at home, I find a definition that agrees with this.

snob, n. 1. a person who imitates, cultivates, or slavishly admires those with social rank, wealth, etc., and is condescending to others. 2. a person who pretends to have social importance, intellectual superiority, etc.

But... my dictionary at home was published in 1968.

And when I look in a more recent dictionary.

snob, n. 1. a person with an exaggerated respect for high social position or wealth who seeks to associate with social superiors and dislikes people or activities regarded as lower-class. 2. [with adj.] a person who believes that their tastes in a particular area are superior to those of other people: a musical snob.

Gone are the words "imitate" and "pretend." Which changes the meaning. With this meaning, I see little difference between the words "snob" and "elitist." A snob is a person who merely condescends, perhaps even with justification. I understand the meanings of words shift and change, but if snobbery no longer implies that one doesn't really know what one is talking about, what do we call that guy who is all about microbrews but can't pick out the macrobrew in a blind taste test?

And also, isn't it weird that to call oneself a "beer snob" is perfectly acceptable, while to call oneself a "beer connoisseur" seems just a little bit, well, snobbish?

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